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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Shut down shark finning

It's hard to imagine a more odious fishing practice than shark finning. The shark is caught, the fins sliced off and the rest of the still-living animal which is of little commercial value is thrown back into the water. The crippled shark soon dies.

Experts estimate that tens of millions of sharks are killed this way each year so that gourmands can eat shark fin soup. It's a cruel and wasteful practice that damages the marine ecosystem by killing off the ocean's most expert predators.

While state and federal laws prohibit shark finning, the laws aren't strong enough to be effective against this lucrative practice.

What's needed are stricter rules, both at the state and federal level, to clamp down on the shark fin market. In the Legislature, House Bill 1775 and Senate Bill 2169 attempt this by outlawing the sale and distribution of shark fins in Hawai'i, regardless of where the fins came from and who is transporting them.

It's a commendable effort, but it may run afoul of federal law and international treaties, which, unfortunately, are less restrictive. Even if the bills need to be revised, lawmakers should not abandon the general intent to ban the sale and distribution of shark fins taken in Hawaiian waters.

Vessels subject to state law should be barred from transferring shark fins to vessels outside the state's jurisdiction. Also, the bills should require better documentation of the origin of shark fins carried by any vessel in Hawai'i ports, to guard against black-market finners operating in state waters.

And federal laws need to be tougher. They should match Hawai'i's requirement that forbids the separation of fins from the carcasses at sea.

But even if the state Legislature can't put an end to shark finning, it can do much more to stop this cruel and destructive practice.