‘Wiped out before our eyes’: Hawaii offers bold plan to stop shark killings

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Sharks could soon become more numerous in Hawaii waters – and advocates say that’s a good thing.

Lawmakers in Honolulu advanced a proposed ban on killing sharks in state waters on Wednesday, after receiving hundreds of calls and letters of support from around the country. The law, which would provide sweeping protection for any shark, rather than select species, could be the first of its kind in the United States.

Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, has pushed for a bill that would ban killing sharks.

Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, has pushed for a bill that would ban killing sharks. Photograph: OneOceanDiving

Along with killing the animals, capturing or harming them would also incur fines and count as a misdemeanor offense.

Sharks, Ramsey said, are deeply misunderstood. Their presence in the ocean is unlike any other animal’s, she noted. “Everything else in the ocean swims away from you, but you can have these incredible interactions with sharks because they’re apex predators and they’re not afraid of you.”

The threats to Hawaii’s sharks are numerous, proponents of the bill argue.

Shark meat isn’t a popular food source, but Ramsey said she has seen sharks left to die on shore, and has encountered images of local fishermen using sharks as bait to catch giant kingfish.

Sharks have been the subject of tour operations advertising nighttime “big game” fishing expeditions in Hawaii.

Sharks have been the subject of tour operations advertising nighttime ‘big game’ fishing expeditions in Hawaii. Photograph: OneOceanDiving

In addition, shark fins can sometimes sell for as much as $500 a pound (£850 per kg). Shark fin soup, a delicacy once favored by Chinese emperors, has become widely popular as a status symbol in modern China. As a result, nearly 100 million sharks are killed globally each year, and species are disappearing. A combination of state and federal laws prohibit the possession of shark fins, as well as “finning”, the brutal fishing technique where sharks are caught, have their fin cut off and are thrown back in the water to die, but the practice continues.

Critics of the bill argue that sharks already have enough protections in Hawaii. Dr Kim Holland, a research professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Institute of Marine Biology, argued that Hawaii’s shark population has been stable for years. “I think if you wanted to be born a shark on the planet, this is where you’d choose,” he said. “I’m sure this law is well-intentioned, but I’m not sure what the motivation for it is.”

Critics of the shark ban say the animals already have enough protections, but Ocean Ramsey says they’re crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem.

Critics of the shark ban say the animals already have enough protection, but Ocean Ramsey argues that they are crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem. Photograph: OneOceanDiving

Sharks are crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem, and oceans worldwide. “They’re the ocean’s immune system,” Ramsey said. Multiple studies have linked shark populations to overall ocean health. They serve a critical purpose by picking off sick and injured marine animals and keeping smaller fish populations under control.

When the shark population declines, large predatory fish can overproduce and decimate the populations of small plant-eating fish, which are crucial to keeping algae down and supporting reef systems. In some places, shark loss has wreaked havoc on local economies, too. In North Carolina’s offshore waters, the overfishing of sharks led to an increased number of rays that consumed the area’s prized bay scallops and forced fisheries to close.

Aside from protecting sharks, the proposed law also expands protections for rays which, like sharks, are slow-growing, long-living animals that begin reproducing at a relatively mature age, and have fewer offspring than other ocean creatures.

Ramsey said she hopes the law will be passed in Hawaii and inspire similar laws in other states, and, ultimately, around the globe.

“These animals have been around for 450m years, and during my lifetime so many of them will go extinct,” she said. “I want it to stop. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to future generations.”

Article Source: The Guardian