POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 27, 2010
Hawaii's initiative coming to the rescue of certain shark species is becoming noticed away from the islands, despite resistance by some countries. President Barack Obama should sign into law a prohibition against cutting off sharks' fins and discarding the finless sharks alive in the Pacific Ocean.
Congressional approval of the ban comes nine months after U.S. proposals to protect hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks were narrowly rejected by the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
China, India and other nations benefiting from the trade in shark fins opposed the proposals.
Fins sell for $300 a pound because they are a central ingredient in soups sold as an East Asian delicacy on special occasions. Some Hawaii restaurants offered the fin soups for as much as $45 a bowl, but this year's state Legislature outlawed possession of shark fins, effectively removing shark fin soups from their menus.
State Sen. Clayton Hee, who sponsored the bill, traveled this month to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth, to encourage enactment of a similar legislation.
"The goal, ultimately, is to stop the sale of shark fins internationally," Hee told the Saipan Tribune. "But like any journey, it's one step at a time. The Hawaii law was the first step."
Owners of Chinese restaurants are complaining that they face major losses because of the congressional action. But the ban is necessary because of estimates that 73 million sharks per year are killed for their fins, resulting in a reduction in some species by as much as 80 percent since the 1970s, according to the Pew Environment Group.
Sharp finning has been banned off the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in expansion of the activity in the Pacific.
The measure awaiting Obama's signature would prohibit ships landing in the U.S. with fins not attached to carcasses, closing gaps in a 2000 law that allow a ship to transport fins as long as the sharks are not finned aboard that vessel.
It would partially exempt smooth dogfish off the coast of North Carolina, at the request of Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, D-Guam, who wrote the U.S. House version of the bill, said the exemption is acceptable because that fishery represents less than 1 percent of all U.S. shark fishing.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now examining the effect of the North Carolina exemption but should recommend that the president sign the bill into law.
"It's a priority of our agency," said Eric Schwabb of the NOAA Fisheries.
The federal ban, along with land-enforced prohibitions such as that in Hawaii, should effectively bring an end to the cruel practice of robbing sharks of their fins and watching them die in the water.