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Kauai shark victim condemns 'finning'


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POSTED: Thursday, July 16, 2009

Eighteen-year-old Kauai resident Mike Coots lost his lower right leg in a shark attack while surfing off Kauai in 1997.

Now Coots, 30, and eight other shark-attack victims are asking Congress to protect the same creatures that did them harm.

Coots said the legislation is important because shark “;finning”; is threatening their existence and hurting the ecosystem.

About 73 million sharks are killed a year, according to the Pew Environment Group, which brought the survivors to Capitol Hill.

“;It's like a massacre,”; Coots said by phone from his Washington, D.C., hotel room. “;To kill off that many animals that quickly, it's completely devastating to the ecosystem.”;

Coots is asking Congress to support the Shark Conservation Act, which was passed by the House in March and is currently before the Senate.

The legislation strengthens a law regulating shark killing and promotes shark conservation internationally.

“;It's time to replace fear with understanding and action, just as we have for lions and other apex predators,”; said Debbie Salamone, a manager at Pew who was bitten by a shark off Florida in 2004.

The demand for shark fins used in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup is driving the overfishing of sharks, the group said. Crews will slice the shark fins off, “;finning”; the animals, then dump the less valuable body back into the ocean.

The practice is banned in the U.S., but the law has loopholes and other countries still allow finning.

Coots was bodyboarding at Housing's off Kauai in October 1997 when a tiger shark bit him. He now wears a prosthetic and continues to surf.

The shark-attack victim's testimony was drawing a lot of attention. Coots spoke yesterday with international and national media. Today he will appear on CNN.

A professional surf photographer, Coots learned more about the issue after Pew contacted him. He said he was never angry with sharks after the attack.

“;I hope people see past the irony and see that it's a pressing issue,”; he said.