American Samoa Shark Fin Ban Could Be Revised To Mirror Federal Law

Current territorial law prohibits landing whole shark and fins; federal statute makes possession of only fins illegal

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, March 13, 2017) – A report by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council staff reveals that the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources is working with Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s legal counsel to draft new language to revise an existing statute, which prohibits the possession of shark fins to mirror federal law.

However, there is a push by some members of Congress to also ban the landing of the whole shark, after identical federal legislation, wasn’t able to succeed last year.

Initially enacted by a 2012 executive order by then Gov. Togiola T. Tulafono, the rule bans shark fining as well as making it illegal for fishermen to keep sharks landed on fishing trips.

However, the rule, which was later adopted into the administrative code, differs from the federal law which allows landing of the whole shark and forbids shark finning.

According to the staff report, DWMR’s new director, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara has taken steps to reverse this conflict with the federal law so that the local law would match the federal statute.

The report, to be taken up when the Council meets in Honolulu from Mar. 21-23, says the revised portion of the administrative code (Title 24.0961) now only needs to be publicly noticed by DMWR.

After the notice time period for submission of comments, the government may be required to hold a public meeting on the statutory revision. By local law, if five or more comments are received from the public, DMWR is required to notice and hold a public meeting on the revision of the code.

“DMWR anticipates this process to be done very soon,” the report says and notes that the Council’s local Advisory Panel was instrumental in affecting the change in the shark law as it regularly spoke in its monthly informal gatherings about the need to get updates from the ASG regarding the status of the revision of the law.

Additionally, the Advisory Panel made a recommendation to the Council at an official meeting to work with the government to complete the revision, and has actively engaged both the DMWR staff and the governor’s legal counsel to seek updates each month.

“This type of action by one of the Council’s advisory bodies illustrates the effectiveness of the Council’s bottoms up approach to fisheries management,” it says.

Besides American Samoa, a few other US jurisdictions, which ban shark finning as well as landing whole sharks are the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and California.

Last week Thursday, U.S Rep. Ed Royce of California and CNMI Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho introduced the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, which makes the possession, sale, and purchase of shark fins illegal acts in the United States.

Royce, who is also chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S can set an example for the rest of the world by “shutting down its market for shark fins, which are often harvested by leaving these animals to die a slow and painful death at the bottom of the ocean.”

While California led the way with a state-wide ban, there are still almost 40 states where the purchase of shark fins is legal, he said in a news release and noted that the bipartisan legislation “is needed to eradicate shark finning for good.”

According to the release, the demand for fins, the key ingredient in shark fin soup, is one of the greatest threats facing shark populations around the world. While shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, shark fins continue to be bought and sold throughout the U.S. and imported through California ports.

It also says that the legislation eliminates the market for shark fins on a 50-state basis.

The Samoa News
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The law intent is to prevent commercial shark fishing primarily by asians for just taking fins and not the whole shark. However as the law is written it makes local fisherman criminals who catch sharks that feed their family from the shores. The wording of this law needs changed. I applaud the new MWR Director and his efforts to correct this.

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