Monday, December 13, 2010

CNMI Shark Fin Ban

Shark fins in Palau: I do not believe that there is a big shark fishery in the CNMI, but the demand for shark fins in the CNMI is having an impact on shark populations region-wide.   The rest of the photos in this blog post show how much shark-derived product is being sold in the CNMI.
The CNMI is close to enacting a law that would ban shark fins. HB 17-94 would "prohibit any person from possessing, selling, offering for sale, trading, or distributing shark fins in the CNMI." The CNMI bill was inspired by similar legislation from Hawaii that is now public law.  However, the Hawaii bill bans all shark products (meat, fins, cartilage, and oil), while the CNMI bill only bans shark fins.

Shark Liver Products: Squalene is made from shark livers.  It is sold in all of the asian health stores on Saipan, including some of the hotels.
The CNMI bill has been making its way through the legislative process for several months now.  Introduced in July 2010 and referred to committee twice, the bill finally passed the House 18-0 last month, but not without amendments that significantly weakened the original protections. The most glaring amendment reads, "a person in possession of a shark fin or a shark fin lawfully taken under Federal or Commonwealth law shall not be subject to the penalties in this Act." These 29 words create a loophole that would effectively exempt all shark fins, rendering the bill meaningless. I will call this the Richard Seman Amendment, since it was included at his behest.

Shark Fin Soup: The greatest demand for shark comes from shark fin soup.  All of the Chinese restaurants serve it.  I remember eating it at the Hyatt Regency Saipan as a kid.
When the bill made its way to the Senate earlier this month the Richard Seman Amendment was NOT removed although jurisdiction was expanded to include the Department of Public Safety, which will make enforcement more likely.  The severity of the fines was also increased and there will be jail time for first time offenders. Last Thursday the Senate passed this new version of the bill 9-0 and sent it back to the House.

Shark Fin Soup: The demand for shark fin soup has led to the depletion of many shark species.
The House now has the option of passing the bill in its current form, or not passing the bill and sending it to conference.  Since the bill was passed by both chambers unanimously, I am sure that the shark fin bill will be passed.  The question now is which version of the bill will be making its way to Governor Benigno R. Fitial's desk.

Shark Cartilage: Shark cartilage is sold as modern day snake oil, promising to cure all kinds of ills.
In the meantime, the world has already started to take notice. Environmental organizations have issues statements, Humane Society International in one, Shark Savers and WildAid in another, that shower accolades on the CNMI leaders. The story is also being picked up by media within the dive community, including and Shark Defenders.

Shark Cartilage: Hey, shark cartilage cures everything the marijuana advocates claim marijuana cures!
It is no surprise that the international environmental and dive communities want to see this bill become law. Sharks are slow growing, mature late, and produce few young. As a result of their biology and overfishing, one third of all pelagic sharks threatened with extinction. The international community is rallying around shark protections around the world, and as such the bill is being followed on Facebook and on message boards by people in places that people in the CNMI would never imagine.

I encourage the House to pass the Senate version of the bill and send this much needed legislation to the governor's desk as soon as possible. The world is moving towards more conservation, and ultimately towards restoration. I want the CNMI to be on that train.

If you are reading this, I encourage you to show your support to the leaders in the CNMI House. Representative Diego Benavente introduced the bill and has been a champion. Rep. Froilan Tenorio is the Speaker of the House, and his support will be key to ensure its passage. The contact information for both leaders is available on the CNMI Legislature website. You can also join the CNMI Shark Fin Free Zone Facebook Group.

1 comment:

Barry Knister said...

Dear Mr. Villagomez,
I served in the Peace Corps in Micronesia (ECI) during the sixties. I am trying to get in touch with Jim Belyea, who also served on Ponape. Any contact information you can provide would be very much appreciated. Thanks.
Barry Knister