Saturday, February 22, 2014

Destined for Shark Balls

Pier 39 Fish Auction Floor
During a long layover in Hawaii last Friday I went for a quick visit to the fish auction at Pier 38. It was just like the small auction in Toyama prefecture back when I lived in Japan, and nothing like the fish market in Fiji.  I love checking out these kinds of things, because like an unnamed Samoan chief once said, "fish is culture."

Some big skipjack tuna
Most of the fishermen who troll for fish in Saipan are catching this species, skipjack tuna.  They are usually just a lot smaller on Saipan.  I think fishermen will catch the occasional bigeye, but mostly they are catching these and yellowfin.  If looking at photos of dead fish is your bag, baby, I have posted several other photos of the fish I saw on The Saipan Blog Facebook Page.

Another reason I wanted to visit the fish auction was to see if there were any sharks.  I'm a shark conservationist, can you blame me?  And I found what I was looking for.  One shark. And from the looks of those claspers, I'd say this mako shark was a boy.

Looks at the size of those claspers!
Sharks are not like other fish.  When it comes to fish -- bony fish like tuna and reef fish -- most conservationists want to manage them so that their numbers increase and we can eat them.  Most of the people who work on sharks -- and there are several exceptions to what I am about to say -- do not want to improve shark populations because they want to eat them.  They want to improve shark populations because sharks are important wildlife that are important for ecosystem integrity, ecotourism, and the self-identity of many indigenous people.  Although I have done it in the past, I would be upset if I found out I was eating shark or using products made from their parts.

For nearly four years I've been working with US states and territories to ban the sale and trade of shark fin.  Each of the 11 state and territorial laws that have passed are unique and have their own fines and exemptions.  The laws in CNMI and Guam exempt sharks killed for cultural reasons.  Hawaii's fines are as high as $5,000, while another state's can be as low as $100.  Several states exempt small sharks such as dogfish, while one state exempts all fishermen that are licensed to fish for sharks.

About a year ago, the United States government issued a proposed rule that would overturn all 11 of these laws because the government claimed they interfered with the federal law that manages fisheries, thus preempting the local laws.

I suspect that the Obama Administration opposition to the federal law originated in Hawaii, which has the highest fines and no exemptions.  Hawaii has interpreted the law so that fishermen can continue to land makos and threshers for their meat, but disallows the sale of their fins.  I wanted to see for myself how many sharks were being landed.  And I found one.

I had a chat with one of the guys working at the fish market, and he said that the day we visited was a particularly slow day and that usually the boats will land a handful of sharks, not just one.  He also said that most of the sharks landed in Hawaii were rendered down to fish balls that are used in soup.

No comments: