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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 19, 2010

Senator pushing to get vote on shark fin ban

By John Windrow
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Leighton Tseu, at a press conference at the state Capitol yesterday, urged protection of sharks as Hawaiian 'aumakua.

KENT NISHIMURA | The Honolulu Advertiser

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State Sen. Clayton Hee called out supporters for his effort to ban the sale and possession of shark fins in Hawai'i as the deadline nears for the bill to be scheduled for a vote in the Legislature.

The bill would make possessing shark fins a misdemeanor in Hawai'i. It's in conference committee and will be dead this session unless it is scheduled for a vote Thursday.

Yesterday, Hee, D-23rd (Kāne'ohe, Kahuku), brought out marine scientists, University of Hawai'i professors, former first lady Vicky Cayetano, environmentalists, animal-welfare activists and others to urge passage of his bill.

They denounced shark finning as a cruel, wasteful practice and said sharks are being harvested at a level that will upset the ecological balance of the ocean. Hee, who is Chinese-Hawaiian, said that despite the popularity of shark fin soup, the debate about the bill does not pit Chinese and Hawaiian cultures against each other because shark fin soup is not a Chinese cultural tradition.

Cayetano said that she was speaking "as a Chinese person" when she agreed that shark fin soup is not a tradition in her culture. Rather, she said, it is a status symbol, a delicacy for the refined palate.

Cayetano called shark finning an "unresponsible, indulgent practice that affects the environment and the ocean's ecosystem.

"Sharks are more valuable in the ocean than in soup," she said.

Defenders of the shark fin trade cite economic reasons and cultural traditions, such as serving shark fin soup at weddings, and say that it has not been scientifically proven that the world's shark population is in dangerous decline.

Carl Meyer, a researcher at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, said sharks are being harvested at an unsustainable rate of more than 70 million a year.

"Efforts to regulate the industry are failing internationally," he said. "That's why regional efforts are so important."

Meyer and UH marine scientists Robert Richmond and Neil Frazer said that sharks provide a vital function in the ocean's food chain by weeding out sick, parasitic or infected fish, thus preserving the overall health of the marine population.

Shark finning cutting the fins off and dumping the shark back into the ocean already is illegal in Hawai'i state waters.

Hee's bill would make possession of shark fins a misdemeanor. Even people who catch sharks for the meat would not be able to sell the fins. Shark fins harvested in other parts of the world also would not be allowed into Hawai'i.

Leighton Tseu, a waterman and member of the Royal Order of Kamehameha who has sailed aboard the Hōkūle'a, said the bill should pass because the shark is an 'aumakua for Hawaiians, a cultural deity.

"We ask for the 'aumakua's protection as a sign of respect for our culture," he said, "respect for the ocean and the 'āina. Manō cannot be bred like cattle or chickens."

When asked to comment on the shark fin bill, Wesley Fong, past president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and a leader in the Chinatown community, said yesterday that given the choice between protecting a gourmet dish and the ocean's ecology: "The ocean's ecology should come first."