An agent from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Law Enforcement counts shark fins. The fins are often dried and used in shark fin soup, which can sell for up to $100 a bowl.
Thanks to new legislation, sharks within the United States' waters are receiving some ramped-up protections.
President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act this week, on Tuesday (Jan. 4). The new law aims to end shark "finning" the practice of slicing off a shark's fin and then dumping the fish back into the ocean.
The fins are typically used in shark fin soup , a prized delicacy in Chinese cooking usually eaten at weddings and other special occasions.
Although the sharks are dumped back into the water still alive, they don't stay that way for long. Without their fins, the animals come to a ghastly end, bleeding to death, suffocating because they can't swim or being eaten by other sharks.
"Up to 73 million sharks are killed this way each year, just for shark fin soup," Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society, said in a statement.
"Cutting off sharks' fins and tossing their live bodies back into the sea is terribly cruel," Pacelle said. "It's also a major factor in the severe decline of sharks worldwide and the associated devastating impact on other species in the ocean ecosystem."
Shark populations around the world are facing extinction . Along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard alone, populations of some shark species have been cut in half, and some have dropped by a staggering 90 percent.
The practice of shark finning was already banned in U.S. waters, but previous restrictions applied only to vessels equipped with fishing gear. The new law makes all finning illegal but with one loophole, reported Wired.com.
A fishery in North Carolina will still be permitted to conduct some finning, an exception that was required to secure the vote of North Carolina senator Richard Burr.