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House panel chairman resurrects shark fin bill


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POSTED: Friday, April 02, 2010

A state legislator has revived a bill banning possession of shark fins in Hawaii that he shot down a couple of days earlier.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had deferred Senate Bill 2169 on Tuesday, killing it without a committee vote.

Yesterday he reeled the bill back in before his committee, which passed it unanimously and moved it forward for a House floor vote.

Karamatsu (D, Waipahu-Waikele) said he changed his mind after native Hawaiians and state Sen. Clayton Hee—who introduced the bill—asked him to reconsider and see whether there can be a compromise.

Native Hawaiians consider sharks to be a deity, while environmentalists say shark bans are needed to ease fishing pressure on the animals. “;I passed it to allow further discussion,”; Karamatsu said.

He said he strongly opposes the bill in its current form because it would prevent research on sharks, possession of sharks in aquariums, accidental take of sharks by commercial boats and eating of shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy.

He told the committee that the bill had to pass in its current version because any amendments would cause it to miss a House deadline.

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“;If we amend it the bill is dead,”; he said.

Karamatsu said if any party still opposes the bill after it is amended in conference committee, he will not support it.

Under current law, shark finning, the act of cutting a shark's fins off and dumping the animal into the water to die, is illegal in state waters. Whole sharks can be brought ashore if their fins are still attached.

The bill would ban the possession of sharks unless they are mako or thresher and their fins are destroyed after the shark is brought back to shore.

Proponents said the bill is needed to protect sharks, top predators that play a balancing role in the ecosystem. But one local scientist says sharks are not endangered in Hawaii.

Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) described the bill as historic, comparing it to when Hawaii became the first state to allow abortion or advocate for health care.

“;It sends a message to the rest of the world and the nation that Hawaii can be a leader—in this case, a leader in the world's sustainable ecology,”; he said.

“;It's a great day for Hawaiians ... because the shark is the aumakua, the family guardian, of Hawaiians,”; said Hee, who is half Chinese and half Hawaiian. But, he added, “;this isn't about the culture. This is about the world's sustainable ecological balance.”;

Hee acknowledged that addressing Chinese cultural concerns may be challenging.

“;It's difficult with the Chinese culture issue because that suggests that the Chinese culture has a higher standard than the Hawaiian culture,”; he said. “;I personally don't want to get into that discussion—culture versus culture—other than to say as a point of information, we're not in China; this Hawaii.”;