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July 9, 2010

Aloha, Shark Fin

Hawaii ban on shark fin trade sets precedent

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Iris with Kelly Hu at the reception. Coen Blaauw

by Iris Ho

Sharks have been around for 400 million years; however, today they are being wiped out at an astonishing rate. Some species are facing extinction. The global threats to sharks are numerous, but one of the principal causes of their decline is the aggressive hunt for their fins for use in shark fin soup.

One U.S. state recently responded to this unprecedented crisis with an unprecedented measure: As of July 1, 2010, it is illegal to possess, sell, or distribute shark fins in Hawaii. While most efforts to deal with the devastating effects of the global fin trade have focused on promoting a "fins-naturally-attached" policy (mandating that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies), this newly-enacted law is the first in the world to ban all shark fin products, including shark fin soup.

Taking action

The Humane Society of the United States (The HSUS), in particular our Hawaii State Director, Inga Gibson, along with Humane Society International and other concerned conservationists and advocates, worked closely with Hawaii State Senator Clayton Hee (D-Kahuku, La'ie, Ka'a'awa, Kane'ohe), who engineered the introduction and passage of the legislation.

On June 30, the day before the shark fin ban took effect, The HSUS organized a press conference in the Hawaii state capitol to celebrate. Kelly Hu, the Hawaii-born Chinese American actress and former Miss Teen USA and Miss Hawaii USA, an animal lover and marine conservation supporter, was present to voice her support for the measure. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Hu about her involvement:

Ho: What motivated you to become an environmental supporter?

Hu: Being a native of Hawaii, I grew up with an appreciation of the beauty of the aina (land) and respect for the environment. I feel a sense of responsibility for the Islands—so much so that I ran the Honolulu marathon a few years ago to help jumpstart an organization called Reef Check Hawaii, nearly killing myself and doing what might be irreparable damage to my body in the process. Needless to say, I am not running any more marathons, but that hasn't stopped my passion for protecting Hawaii's environment.

Ho: Were you always aware of the cruelty of shark finning? What was your impression of sharks while growing up?

Hu: Growing up with a passion for film, I recall sneaking into the movie "Jaws" with my brother at a very impressionable young age. Seeing movies like "Jaws" and hearing media reports of shark attacks, I, like many people, had built up a fear of sharks, making it easier in my mind to justify killing them in mass quantities. But now that I am older, and hopefully much wiser, I've come to realize what an important role sharks play in our delicate global ecosystem. The brutal practice of shark finning is a problem that affects us all. Millions of sharks are killed for their fins every year, much of it happening right off our own shores.

Ho: What do you think about this unprecedented measure by Hawaii to protect sharks?

Hu: Despite being one of the smallest states, Hawaii has shown leadership to the world. Not only have we provided the world with a U.S. president, a saint, and a good number of beauty queens, but Hawaii has also set a great example by passing this groundbreaking bill with the hopes of inspiring other states and countries to follow.

Ho: As an Asian American, you are probably quite aware that Asians and Asian Americans are the majority of the shark fin soup consumers. What's your message to them?

Hu: Of course, the way to end shark finning all together is to stop the demand for the product. As a Chinese American, I grew up with the idea of shark fin soup being a delicacy, but I've come to realize the consequences to the health of our oceans. So I'm here to encourage other Asian Americans to help end the demand by talking, blogging and tweeting about this bill and encouraging their friends to support other bills in their areas prohibiting the sale and possession of shark fins as we have here. Hearing so much lately about the devastation in the Gulf coast, I was getting depressed by the fact that there was nothing I could do to help over there. But by spreading the word about this important piece of legislation, I feel like I'm doing something to help heal our ocean here.

Ho: Thank you, Kelly, and mahalo (thanks) for your support for The HSUS/HSI and for speaking out for the sharks today!

Making progress

In 2000, Hawaii became the first state in the U.S. to pass fins-naturally-attached legislation. Experts have stated that this policy is by far the best method of enforcing finning bans. Ten years later, similar legislation (S. 850 Shark Conservation Act 2009) is awaiting passage by the U.S. Senate. With the enactment of this unprecedented shark fin ban, Hawaii has again proven itself to be a pioneer in shark and ocean conservation.

The ban on shark fins might be legally binding in Hawaii only, but its impact goes beyond the borders of Hawaii and the U.S. in a ripple effect across the Pacific Ocean to the largest market for shark fins.

You can help

If you would like to join Ms. Kelly Hu in saving sharks, please:

  • Sign our No Shark Fin pledge
  • Urge your Senators to support the Shark Conservation 2009 Act (S.850)
  • Learn more about shark finning and its devastating consequences for sharks and the oceans
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