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WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 27, 2000 – The Honolulu Advertiser)---President Bill Clinton signed a bill yesterday that bans the practice of cutting off shark fins – a culinary delicacy in Asia – and throwing the dying fish back into the sea.

The legislation is aimed mainly at Pacific Ocean fishermen supplying fins to Asian markets, where they are prized as a specialty and thought to be an aphrodisiac. Shark fin soup can sell for as much as $100 a bowl in some Asian countries.

The Commerce Department took administrative action in 1993 to halt finning in Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters after it became apparent the practice was reducing shark populations.

Clinton’s action establishes the ban in law and extends it to the Pacific Ocean.

The new law makes it illegal for a fishing boat to enter an American port or operate in the 200-mile U.S. federal water territories carrying shark fins without the carcass.

The practice, called shark finning, is often a side business to swordfish and tuna fishing, and small fishing operations have no room to carry carcasses, which are of little market value.

New rules signed into law this year by Hawai‘i Governor Ben Cayetano have the same aim of curtailing the lucrative shark fin trade.

The state law says shark fins brought to Hawaiian ports must either be on the shark or, if sliced off, the carcasses must be stored aboard the ship.

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-California, who first introduced the federal legislation two years ago, said sharks are among the most biologically vulnerable species in the ocean because of their slow growth, late maturity and small number of offspring.

According to the Ocean Wildlife Campaign, tens of thousands of sharks, often ocean blue sharks, are killed for their fins in the U.S. Pacific Ocean, and that in 1998, the number of sharks finned in the waters surrounding Hawai‘i topped 60,000.

But members of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council have said the blue shark population is healthy and not threatened by shark finning.

Blue sharks, which can grow to about 13 feet and weigh more than 400 pounds, make up 95 percent of the sharks caught by Hawai‘i longliners. Blue sharks are not considered dangerous to humans.

Council members have estimated that sales from shark fins account for 10 percent of crews’ wages in Hawai‘i’s $55 million-a-year longline fishing industry.

The council oversees fisheries in federal waters surround Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Pacific Island possessions.

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

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