Friday, June 18, 1999

Report: Shark finning ban
would have little impact

By Michael Tighe
Associated Press


Banning shark finning in regions of the Pacific Ocean would have little financial impact on the fishing fleet and little biological impact on shark species, a federal report says.

The report by the National Marine Fisheries Service says fishing vessels only catch sharks while pursuing other species and most of the money from selling fins is paid to crewmen as an under-the-table bonus.

Also, such a ban still would allow sharks to be killed -- they would just be thrown back whole or brought to shore whole -- and there is no evidence that Pacific shark populations are declining, the report said.

The report was presented to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which is studying whether to impose limits or a ban on the practice of cutting off a shark's fins and then throwing the rest of the fish overboard.

Those fish that are alive soon drown without their fins.

The council's options range from a ban on catching sharks to maintaining the status quo to developing more markets for shark meat to discourage finning.

The council manages fisheries in federal waters extending 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.

At Thursday's meeting, the council was told to focus on science and not the public-relations issues associated with finning.

"Fisheries management is a pretty complex subject," said consultant Mike McCoy, who co-authored the report. "Decisions should be made on a scientific basis. There's a lot of public perception that's driving the management, not the science."

One of those perceptions belonged to native Hawaiians, many of whom consider finning a wasteful affront to their culture, which considers sharks to be an 'aumakua, or guardian spirit.

"It's very culturally offensive to the native Hawaiian people," activist Charles Maxwell said. "It's a mystical association we have. At least respect the spiritual sanctity of our people."

The Hawaii Fishermen's Foundation also opposes finning because it encourages waste and fosters publicity that could be harmful to the state's No. 1 industry: tourism.

"It's a waste issue," foundation president Bob Endreson said. "I don't want to hug the sharks."

The report said up to 261 tons of shark fins were produced, shipped and sold in Hawaii, American Samoa and Guam last year. That generated up to $3.2 million total.

By far, the primary species caught and finned in the Pacific is the blue shark, which grows to 13 feet, can weigh 400 pounds and is considered harmless to humans.

Currently, about 100,000 blue sharks are incidentally caught by Hawaii-based long-liners chasing swordfish and tuna.

About 60,000 of those sharks are finned, with the fins dried on board and then sold to dealers here for shipment to local markets and Asia.

The industry only generates about $1.5 million in Hawaii, most of which isn't taxed because crewmen don't report it.

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