Saturday, June 19, 1999

Agency to
reassess rules
on shark fishing

Environmentalists decry
the killing of so many
sharks just for their fins

Associated Press


Shark finning will continue in some regions of the Pacific Ocean after a federal agency failed yesterday to ban the practice.

Instead, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council wrapped up four days of meetings by agreeing to examine measures regulating the use of long-line gear by swordfish and tuna vessels.

Hawaii vessels using that gear unintentionally snag about 100,000 blue sharks a year. The council said about 60,000 of those sharks are finned.

The council agreed to include bottom long-line gear in the existing definition of long-line, even though that gear is not generally used in federal waters of the Pacific.

It predominantly is used in coastal waters, which are managed by the state of Hawaii.

The council yesterday also directed staff to work with the state of Hawaii to write complementary regulations on shark fishing for all gear types used in state and federal waters that currently are closed to longline gear.

Those waters extend up to 75 miles off the shores of the main Hawaiian Islands.

The council also said it will consider at its February/March meeting further regulations concerning sharks, including whether to require that the full shark be used, instead of just their fins, and whether to impose a quota on shark harvests.

The agency also said it would prepare a report on the cultural aspects of sharks and shark fishing following complaints by Native Hawaiians, who say shark finning is an affront to their beliefs that a shark is an 'aumakua, or a personal god.

Environmentalists also said cutting off shark fins and dumping the rest of the sometimes-living shark back into the ocean to drown is wasteful and cruel.

The council regulates fisheries in federal waters 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coasts of Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Shark finning is banned in federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean -- where sharks have been overfished -- and is opposed by U.S. representatives to international fisheries organizations.

It still is allowed in the Pacific, although the National Marine Fisheries Service has told the council to address finning "immediately."

"NMFS' position is that shark finning is wasteful and should be stopped," Penelope Dalton, NMFS' assistant administrator for fisheries, told council Chairman James Cook in a recent letter.

On Thursday, Cook said sharks are a viable resource and any decisions concerning their management should be based on science, and not emotional issues such as whether finning is cruel to sharks or offensive to some cultures.

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