MARSHALLS PARLIAMENT MULLS SHARK FINNING BAN

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Hawaii Sen. Hee testifies in favor of bill

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Sept. 9, 2011) – A bill to ban shark finning in the Marshall Islands was backed by a Hawaii state senator and many local testifiers at a parliament hearing Wednesday.

Hawaii Senator Clayton Hee, who flew out to testify in support of the proposed legislation, joined with Marshall Islands leaders saying it is time to halt the killing of sharks that is undermining the marine ecology system.

Introduced by six members of parliament, the new bill wants to halt the possession, sale or transshipment of any shark part with fines for violations ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 and jail terms of up to a year. Bill introducer Sen. Tony deBrum said the bill is patterned closely on laws already approved by many islands in the region, including Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Marianas, and elsewhere, including U.S. states.

Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Director Glen Joseph testified in support of the bill. Joseph’s agency has its own shark ban planned as part of a larger fisheries law revamp that is to be introduced to the parliament later this month. But he said he supported this stand-alone shark ban bill.

[PIR editors' note: Palauan President Toribiong was recently honored by the Shark Research Institute for declaring Palau's waters, which amounts to nearly 237,000 square miles of ocean, a protected shark sanctuary, a move that international conversation organizations and government departments have applauded.]

But Hee objected to one section of the planned fisheries bill that would allow shark fishing for "scientific" purposes. "This is a clever maneuver for longliners to keep catching sharks," Hee said. "It’s very clear that sharks bring in a lot of money, but the entire marine food chain suffers." People testifying at the hearing said longline fishing boats catch large volumes of shark for their fins that is labeled "bycatch." Hee said this can be stopped by restricting the type of fishing gear and hooks the longliners are allowed to use. Hee praised the senators for taking this "proactive step."

[PIR editor’s note: Other Pacific countries are also hoping to enact shark fishing bans. In the Marshall Islands, leaders endorsed a plan in August to ban the harvesting and sale of shark fins; however, leaders have expressed concerns that citizens will not be as quick to put down finning, by which some isolated islanders are able to supplement their income.]

If shark fishing and finning is allowed to continue "it will change our oceans forever," he said. The shark industry is "all about greed and profiteering. It’s not about a sustainable planet." Hee said Hawaii "provides the perfect example of what happens in the marine ecology system when fish are depleted through greed. In Hawaii, by inattention to a sustainable lifestyle" many fish species were wiped out and reefs died, Hee said.

Shark fishing is not a Pacific island legacy, Hee said. It’s an industry driven by an Asian market for people who are wealthy to indulge in eating shark fin-related products, he said. The parliament committee is expected to issue its report on the shark ban bill to the parliament when it reconvenes next week.

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