By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas has banned the trade of shark fins in the state, a move that could end its status as one of the main U.S. centers of activity for the product prized as a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.
Governor Greg Abbott during the weekend signed into law the measure to ban the trade, becoming the 10th U.S. state with such a measure, according to Oceana, an international advocacy group to protect the world's oceans.
Texas is the first Gulf Coast state to no longer participate in the global fin trade that conservationists blame for global declines in sharks.
Texas had seen a 240 percent increase in its trade of shark fin since 2010 when states including California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and New York enacted bans in their states, Oceana said.
"We have calculated that Texas was responsible for exporting about 50 percent of the remaining shark fin exports that were coming out of the United States. It had become a hub of shark fin trade in the U.S.," said Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientists for Oceana.
Shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters but fins can still be exported and imported out of most U.S. states, the group said.
With finning, typically the fins are cut off and the live shark is tossed back into the sea. Unable to swim properly, the shark suffocates or is killed by predators.
The global catches of sharks are in excess of 800,000 metric tone per year, and the fin trade alone is worth more than $480 million per year, according to global conservation group Traffic, which has worked to place several species of sharks under international protection.
Texas accounted for a small portion of the global trade, with 12.6 tons between 2011 and 2014, Oceana said.
The law that imposes criminal charges for those caught in the trade is set to take effect on July 1, 2016.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott)