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Sen. Clayton Hee wrote Hawaii’s ban on practice

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 21, 2010) – Hawaiian State Senator Clayton Hee, the author of the bill that became the strongest anti-shark fining law in the nation, is drumming up support for a similar Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) House bill pending at the Senate.

Hee and WildAid shark campaign project manager Stefanie Brendl met with Governor Benigno R. Fitial yesterday afternoon to push for the enactment into law of CNMI House minority leader Diego Benavente's (R-Saipan) House Bill 17-94, which bans the sale and distribution of shark fins in the Commonwealth.

They also met with local lawmakers led by Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) and House vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan) on Capital Hill yesterday afternoon.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said the governor, during his meeting with Hee and Brendl, indicated his "full support for the shark fining ban in the CNMI and is awaiting final action in the Legislature before the bill is transmitted to the Executive Branch for action."

Hee said Benavente's HB 17-94 could be one of the most important legislation to protect not only sharks but also the marine environment.

Benavente's bill is modeled upon Hee's bill that became law in Hawaii on May 28 this year.

Shark fining is the commercial fishing practice of landing a shark caught by hook or net and cutting off its fins. The rest of the shark is then thrown back into the ocean as trash. Many times the shark is still alive and tries to swim away after being thrown back in, but it is doomed to drown without fins.

Hee's Bill 2169 made it illegal to possess, sell, or barter shark fins in Hawaii. Advocates said the simple; three-page bill not only closed the loophole in Hawaiian shark fishing, but also removed the demand for shark fin soup in Hawaii.

"The goal, ultimately, is to stop the sale of shark fins internationally. But like any journey, it's one step at a time. The Hawaii law was the first step. Palau creating a shark sanctuary is a second step. The legislation here is the third step so ultimately it's my belief that as Pacific islanders, those steps will continue if given the opportunity to succeed," Hee said in an interview yesterday.

Benavente's HB 17-94 passed the House on November 17. The Senate also passed the bill in a substitute form.

However, Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) asked that the Senate-substituted bill be recalled to address additional concerns on the measure.

The amendment clarifies the intent to exempt possession of shark for non-commercial or subsistence purposes.

Hofschneider, in an interview, said he himself was surprised by the impact of the bill not only in the CNMI but also in other parts of the world. He said the bill has also sparked strong interest from international conservation groups.

Hee said he is aware of the need to amend the bill.

"On the other hand, some of the legislators have indicated some concerns about local consumption. And I have been around long enough to understand that politics is the art of the possible. So we're trying to make it possible to amend the bill so that local consumption is also (permitted)," he said.

Senate President Paul Manglona (R-Rota) may call for a Senate session next week to act on this bill.

Benavente said he supports any amendment that will help in advancing the bill's goal of protecting sharks from fining, while at the same time also taking into consideration the right of local people to catch shark for their own consumption.

He also calls on his colleagues in the House to se aside their differences to pass this important legislation.

Hee visited Saipan yesterday particularly to share his thoughts on and push for the passage of Benavente's pending bill.

Shark fining is principally responsible for the decline in shark populations worldwide. Between 80 and 100 million sharks are killed each year, which has reduced overall shark populations by an estimated 90 percent.

And because shark fin soup yields high profits, the shark fin industry keeps pressure on legislators to refrain from passing and enforcing anti-fining laws.

Once Benavente's bill is signed into law, it will also stop the shark fin soup trade in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

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