Friday, March 28, 2014

Stand With Guam and Protect Sharks

Guest Blog
by Carlotta Leon Guerrero

Earlier this week, a federal judge in California issued a ruling that is terrific news for sharks. Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a lawsuit filed by shark fin dealers challenging a 2011 state law that prohibited the trade of shark fins in California. Among other allegations, the shark fin traders had claimed that the state law was preempted by the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the federal law that manages American fisheries.

Fortunately for sharks, the judge agreed with the defendants that federal law and state law don’t conflict and this decision means that California’s ban on the shark fin trade can stay in place. Judge Orrick wrote, “Nothing in the MSA requires a state to allow the possession or trading of shark fin—even shark fin lawfully landed—so prohibiting the possession or sale of shark fin in California is not an obstacle to Congress’ intent in enacting the MSA.” This could pave the way for further shark protections in California.

Judge Orrick’s decision could also have important implications for other states and territories. While the decision does not set a legal precedent for other jurisdictions, it sets the political tone.

Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands have also passed laws protecting sharks that are now faced with meddling from federal U.S. bureaucracy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently trying to undo protections that states and territories have put in place for sharks under the claim that federal law preempts state law. This is the same allegation made by the shark fin traders in the California case, and the judge rightfully dismissed it.

NOAA should respect the state and territorial laws and cease trying to reverse these broadly-supported state-level protections. They’ve already backpedalled from their original position and exempted California, Maryland, and Washington from the federal preemption. They should do the same for all 11 states and territories that have taken additional steps to protect sharks within their own jurisdiction.

There are a myriad of instances where states have chosen to go further than federal law (minimum wage, health care, gun control laws, to name a few), and in this court decision the judge rightfully points out that there is no conflict between the state and federal law because they share the goal of conservation of the species. The judge’s decision that federal law doesn’t preempt state law is excellent news and will hopefully prompt NOAA to back off further, so the existing shark protections can stay in place.


If you'd like to show your support, please call on @NOAA to protect sharks and tag your Twitter and Facebook posts with #StandWithGuam.

Carlotta Leon Guerrero is the executive director of the Ayuda Foundation and a former member of the Guam Senate.

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