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Thursday, April 6, 2000

limits approved
by Senate panel

By Crystal Kua


You will still be able to eat shark fin soup without fear of prosecution in Hawaii, but removing a fin before the shark is brought to shore whole will be prohibited under a bill that has cleared a final committee.

Legislature 2000 The Senate Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs Committee yesterday unanimously approved a bill that would ban shark-finning -- the practice of cutting off fins of sharks -- by Hawaii-based fishing boats.

"This will make it very clear that within our territorial waters you cannot fin without landing the shark whole," committee Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa said.

Violators could be fined up to $15,000.

The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote.

A similar bill died last session, but Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Makiki), who introduced the bill, said the measure now appears to be on its way to becoming law.

Schatz said that is because there are enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate, and the House will agree to changes made to the bill in the Senate because Schatz helped to draft the amendments. He also expects the governor to sign the bill once it clears the Legislature.

Opponents of shark-finning say the practice of throwing the shark overboard after it has been finned is wasteful and cruel.

Proponents of finning do not consider it wasteful to discard the carcass because most of the shark's flesh is inedible.

During a hearing on the bill earlier in the week, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and other groups representing the local Chinese community expressed concern that buying shark fins in stores to make shark fin soup would be illegal under the bill.

But the bill was changed yesterday so that consumers and restaurateurs would not be penalized, Hanabusa said.

"What we are trying to do is prevent the plundering of our resources, and not the eating of shark fin soup," Schatz said. "The amendments clarify that."

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which earlier this year voted in favor of allowing the finning of up to 50,000 blue sharks a year, wanted the committee to amend the bill to deal with sharks caught only in state waters or up to three miles offshore.

Hanabusa said that as long as there is no federally approved fisheries plan in place, the state law would apply to Hawaii-registered vessels even beyond the three-mile limit. If such a plan is eventually approved and the plan conflicts with state law, the law would apply to state waters.

Schatz said he is happy with the outcome and is glad that the Legislature has acted on the measure.

"I think it's testimony to how public input can affect policy-making," Schatz said.

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