Maui News

US Senate Approves Ban on Sale of Shark Fins as Hawaiʻi Enacts Shark Protection Act

June 8, 2021, 3:56 PM HST
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US Sen. Brian Schatz. Courtesy photo.

The US Senate passed major bipartisan legislation today that included a provision co-sponsored by US Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawai‘i, which would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States and protect sharks from finning.

“Finning is cruel, and it’s crushing the global shark population, which is critical to our oceans and marine ecosystem,” said Sen. Schatz, who led the effort. “I’m glad we were able to move this bill one step closer to becoming law so that we can protect more sharks from this brutal practice.”

Finning is the practice of slicing fins off of live sharks and throwing the remainder of the animal back into the ocean to drown, starve or die.

Specifically, the provision will:

  • Remove the US contribution of shark fins to the global market.
  • Allow for stronger enforcement of illegal shark fin trade in the United States.
  • Put the US in a stronger position to advocate internationally for abolishing the fin trade in other countries.

Although the United States has banned the practice of shark finning aboard vessels in US-controlled waters, there is no federal ban on the removal and sale of shark fins from a whole shark that has been caught and landed legally under US law. Enforcing the law is difficult because once a shark fin is detached from the body, it is almost impossible to determine whether the shark was legally caught, or the fin lawfully removed. Determination of species is also difficult, which is problematic given that some shark species are threatened with extinction.

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The bill now heads to the US House of Representatives for consideration.

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The United States Innovation and Competition Act is comprised of bills intended to address the growing military, geopolitical and economic competitiveness of China, according to the rpc.senate.gov. The Senate moved it forward with a vote of 68-32, according to USA Today.

Hawaʻi Enacts Landmark Shark Protection Act on World Oceans Day

At the state level, Governor David Ige signed House Bill 553; Relating to Shark Protection, into law, making Hawaiʻi a marine sanctuary for the more than 40 species of sharks that frequent state waters.

The bill, introduced by Representative Nicole Lowen (House District 6 – Kailua-Kona, Hōlualoa, Kalaoa, Honokōhau), and championed in the Senate by Senator Mike Gabbard (Senate District 20 – Kapolei, Makakilo, and portions of ‘Ewa, Kalaeloa, and Waipahu), prohibits the intentional or knowing capture, killing or entanglement of any shark in state waters, bringing an end to shark trophy hunting charters, the take of baby sharks for the aquarium pet trade and the intentional killing or mutilation of sharks for their teeth, jaws or other parts.

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The bill does not criminalize the accidental capture and release of a shark if incidentally captured while lawfully fishing for other species. The bill also allows for the states’ continued issuance of research, education and special activity permits.

In 2010, Hawaiʻi enacted the nations first anti-finning and shark fin sales ban, setting off a global initiative with 13 US states and territories following Hawaiʻi’s lead. Data has shown that Hawaiʻi’s shark fin sales ban bill spared the lives of tens of thousands of sharks from cruel finning since its enactment; however, that measure didn’t explicitly apply to the capture or killing of whole sharks, as HB553 does. 

“We thank Governor Ige for signing this important bill into law. Sharks are key apex predators who are critical to our oceans health and resiliency, especially in light of growing negative impacts from climate change,” said Representative Lowen.

“Manō (shark), are not only important to our reef and ocean ecosystems, but are sacred ʻaumakua (ancestral guardians) of many Native Hawaiians. It is time we extend our Aloha to these guardians of the sea and afford them the protections they so need and deserve,” said Senator Gabbard.

Research has shown that reef shark population abundance has declined by upwards of 90 percent around the main Hawaiian Islands. Globally, 71 percent of shark species are facing potential extinction. 

The bill, which becomes law on Jan. 1, 2022, had support from local marine protection and native Hawaiian organizations including For the Fishes, Mālama Manō, Pono Advocacy, the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter and the Hawaiʻi Reef and Ocean Coalition, and by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Department of Land and Natural Resources.

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