Shark conservation groups are celebrating a small but important triumph after Hawaii on Friday became the first state in the nation to ban the sale, possession and distribution of shark fins.
Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law a bill that will halt the import of shark fins, which are valued as the primary ingredient in soup sold mostly in Asian communities and markets.
It's hoped this will inspire other states and nations to also stop the practice of shark-finning, which entails slicing fins from live sharks and dumping their bodies overboard."People from around the world have been following this Hawaii bill every step of the way," said Mary O'Malley of the New York-based conservation group Shark Savers. "The success of the bill has motivated people in Hong Kong, Malaysia, other states in the U.S., Canada and even Ireland to seek shark-fin-ban legislation modeled after the Hawaii bill."
Under provisions of Senate Bill 2169, sponsored by Sen. Clayton Lee, Hawaii restaurants have until July 2011 to stop serving shark-fin soup. Thereafter, those in violation will face fines ranging to $15,000 for a first offense; to $35,000 for a second offense, and to $50,000, plus a year in jail, for a third offense.Up to 70 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, according to some estimates, leaving scientists and conservation groups to become concerned about the long-term survival of many shark species. The practice of shark-finning has fallen under increasing criticism but efforts to ban the practice globally have failed.
Therefore, regional efforts such as Hawaii's are perceived as highly significant.
"The passing of the bill sends a strong message to the rest of the country and the world that shark finning must end if sharks are to survive long-term, and that we can put a stop to the barbaric annihilation of one of the most important animals in the ocean," said Laleh Mohajerani, president of the Southern California-based conservation group Iemanya Oceanica. "Iemanya will be meeting with California lawmakers during the next few months to make sure that our state follows Hawaii in instituting similar protections for sharks."
Opposition to the bill was limited to commercial fishermen, who had been part of a small mako and thresher shark meat fishery, and some Chinese on the islands. Shark-fin soup sells for up to $45 a bowl in some of Hawaii's restaurants.
-- Photo courtesy of SharkDiver.com