Shark fin ban signed into law
By Audrey McAvoy
Hawai'i yesterday became the first state to ban the possession, sale, trade or distribution of shark fins, in an attempt to prevent the extinction of the ocean predators.
Gov. Linda Lingle signed the bill prohibiting shark fins, which are used in high-priced Chinese dishes. Exceptions will be made for researchers who have obtained a permit from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The bill passed the state Legislature earlier this year with broad support.
Many Chinese consider shark fins to be a delicacy, and opposed the bill on the grounds that shark fins are an important part of Chinese culture. Shark fin is served in high-end Chinese restaurants in soup and as fillets in gravy.
But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Clayton Hee, who is of Chinese and Native Hawaiian descent, disagreed.
"It isn't part of the Chinese culture. What it is, is a dish that traditionally is served in Chinese restaurants," said Hee, D-23rd (Kāne'ohe Kahuku).
The law takes effect next July, giving restaurants time to use their existing inventory. About a dozen restaurants in Hawai'i serve shark fin.
First-time offenders may be fined between $5,000 and $15,000. The penalty goes up to between $35,000 and $50,000 and imprisonment of up to a year for those caught with fins a third time.
Johnson Choi, president of the Hong Kong China Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, said shark fins should be allowed. But he said sharks should be treated humanely when they're caught and their fins removed.
Some opponents of shark fins have focused on the way some fishermen slice off sharks' fins at sea and then dump the rest of the carcass, which has little economic value, in the ocean.
"I agree sharks should not (have their fins) cut off and (be) left to die," Choi said.
Hawai'i restaurants currently serving shark fin say they're ready to obey the new law.
David Chui, manager of Legends Seafood Restaurant in Honolulu, said customers could substitute winter melon soup and chicken with white fungus soup for shark fin soup.
"There are so many other foods that are healthy but aren't as high class as shark fin," Chui said.