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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Nov. 29, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---Fishermen, beware.

Legislation banning cyanide fishing in the waters surrounding the Northern Marianas was passed by the House of Representatives on Friday in its effort to protect rapidly depleting marine resources around the islands.

The bill offered by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Manuel A. Tenorio will make the practice a criminal offense carrying imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of not less than $10,000 or both.

"This is an industry that must be banned from feeding off the pristine waters of the CNMI. The waters of the Commonwealth must be protected from this marine life genocide," said Tenorio in the bill.

Cyanide fishing is a method in which fishermen harvest marine life by spraying the poisonous chemical into the coral reefs to stun fishes and crustaceans, and then extract them by breaking apart the coral rocks, according to House Bill 11-492.

Live fish are then sold in aquarium and food markets around the world. The bill said that while the poison does not kill the fish, it kills and destroys the other life forms in the coral reef.

"The demand for fresh seafood is. . . high and a complete ban of cyanide fishing in the Commonwealth today will preserve our marine life for our future," the measure pointed out.

"To destroy coral reefs is to destroy the people's veritable fish factories, their major source of food and provider of income," it added.

Called the Cyanide Fishing Act of 1999, the measure follows a general consensus reached among lawmakers in the Western Pacific during the recent assembly of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures or APIL, according to House members.

They said the move is in line with the regional efforts to safeguard marine life and resources which are being threatened by commercial fishing ventures, especially those that engage in illegal practices just to make more money.

While there are no official statistics on the extent of cyanide fishing in the Commonwealth, House Majority Floor Leader Ana S. Teregeyo said the practice is rampant. APIL is expected to release a study on the problem.

According to the findings of the House, there is an "alarming increase" in cyanide fishing in the vast waters of the Indo-Pacific region.

The bill now heads to the Senate for further action.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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