In an exciting victory for sharks and conservationists, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill last week making it illegal to possess and sell shark fins in the state of New Jersey.

The new law, which takes effect January 1, 2021, makes finning, selling, trading, and obtaining shark fins illegal. It does not cover fins used in educational and scientific environments or fins obtained with appropriate licenses. Those found breaking the law will face fines between $5000 and $55,000, as well as jail time after three or more violations. The fines will be allocated for conservation efforts.

While ‘finning,’ or harvesting a shark’s fins and discarding the rest of his or her body, has been illegal in U.S. waters since 2000, no national law bans the importation of shark fins from other parts of the world. Considered a culinary delicacy by some, shark fin soup increases the market demand for and slaughter of these majestic creatures.

Often when hunters harvest fins, the sharks are still alive. Ripped from the ocean, they struggle for their lives as their fins are cut off and their bodies are thrown back to sink and suffer. Without their fins to guide them through the water, sharks can’t pass water through their gills to breathe. If not killed by ocean predators first, the sharks slowly suffocate on the ocean floor.

The Humane Society International estimates that 72 million sharks are killed annually for their fins with around 70 shark species currently at risk of extinction due to this cruel practice.

“Shark fins are often obtained in a very inhumane manner that causes much suffering to the animal,” said Murphy. “I am proud to sign this law that will prevent the catch and release of sharks for the purpose of cutting off their fins.”

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji joined Murphy in denouncing the practice.

“Shark finning is an inhumane practice that leads to the animal’s slow, excruciating death,” he said. “Aside from being downright cruel, shark finning is threatening the very existence of certain species, which ultimately poses a threat to the balance of all marine life.”

On a national level, the House of Representatives moved forward on a bill last November banning the trade and possession of shark fins. It still requires approval by the Senate before it can be signed into law by the President, but the New Jersey bill will hopefully bring increased awareness to this tragedy, resulting in a swift passage.