Friday, September 9, 2011

Shark ban gets push in Marshall Islands

Members of the Committee on Resource and Development hear testimony on the Marshall Islands proposed shark protection law.  Photo: Stefanie Brendl.
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 state Sen. 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.

Members of the Majuro community pack the public hearing room to provide testimony.  Photo: Stefanie Brendl.
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.

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.”

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.”

State Senator Clayton Hee of Hawaii (left) and State Senator Carlotta Leon Guerrero of Guam (right) testify on behalf of shark protections.  The pair have advocated for shark protections across the Western and Central Pacific in recent years.  Photo: Stefanie Brendl.
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.

Published in the Marianas Variety and Marshall Islands Journal on Friday, September 9, 2011.

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