Friday, April 9, 2010

Hawaii Shark Conservation: positive steps but more work lies ahead

On the shark conservation front, there are interesting news items out of Hawaii.

Some time ago, there was a growing movement afoot to eliminate all shark diving at the islands (see prior post). This all came about through one man's poorly thought-out attempt to establish a new operation in an area close to a large populace of recreational ocean users. Badly handled public relations triggered a firestorm of protest, based on emotional rationales, fear, and highly disputed assumptions. But the island of Maui was able to pass an ordinance banning any potential shark ecotourism operations and established operators in Oahu were similarly threatened. Hard work on the part of Oahu's operators, particularly Stefanie Brendl of Hawaii Shark Encounters, got legislators to see the weaknesses of opposition arguments and the potential for lost tourism revenue. So, for now, the furor seems to be subsiding in Oahu.

Almost simultaneously, some enlightened state legislators initiated legislation that would ban the sale, trade, and distribution of all shark fins. The proposed legislation, SB 2169, has gone through some ups and downs but just recently cleared Hawaii's House of Representatives. So
that's one major hurdle that has been cleared. The next step in the state's bureaucracy is for the bill to go to conference to be reviewed by Senate representatives before reaching the Senate floor for a vote. This is all encouraging, but it's not a done deal yet.

While Asia receives the majority of the blame for the market demand in shark products, Hawaii is, quietly, one of the leading centers for trade and distribution of shark products. That means there will be forces at work to combat the bill, but its passage would certainly place Hawaii in the foreground of compassionate and sensible conservation, would protect a marine resource that contributes to a healthy ecosystem which impacts other recreational and commercial fishing activities, and would be in keeping with the islands' long cultural heritage of viewing sharks as a resource to be protected. Perhaps future legislation can address shark liver oil, cartilage, and other shark-related products as well.

Let's hope that responsible shark ecotourism and strong legislation to protect sharks commercially will be the order of the day in Hawaii. Sharks would certainly benefit from both.

My friends at the SharkDiver blog have posted the text of the bill, which is fortunately straight-forward and easy to read. Click here to read it.

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