Why Hawaii Is Trying a Bold Plan to Outlaw Killing Sharks

The proposed new law would protect any shark and ray in the state's waters

Mar 9, 2019

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Sharks, Hawaii

(Max Topchii / Shutterstock.com)

The number of sharks in the waters around Hawaii could soon go up in number, and that would be a really good thing according to ocean environmentalists.

In a historic first, lawmakers in Hawaii proposed a ban on killing sharks and rays in the island state's waters. The law would provide protection for all species of sharks and received an enthusiastic response from environmentalists across the US.

“These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on,” Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, researcher, and tour operator, who has been instrumental in lobbying for the bill, told The Guardian.

In January, a photo of Ramsey swimming with a 20 ft great white shark off the coast of Oahu went viral on the OneOcean Facebook page.

While sharks are feared and vilified in movies like "Jaws," shark attacks are very uncommon in Hawaii. With 1.4 million residents and 9 million visitors every year, there were only three shark attacks in the state in 2018, all from tiger sharks.

The purpose of the act is to protect sharks and rays for ecological reasons, as well as for their value to native Hawaiian practices and it has sharp enforcement teeth backing it. Steep fines and penalties will be established for anyone who knowingly captures or kills a shark including the forfeiture of commercial marine licenses and fishing boats and equipment. It would also be a misdemeanor criminal offense. The legislation also expands the current prohibition for knowingly capturing or killing mantra rays to all species of rays. Hawaii really means business.

There are numerous threats to Hawaii's sharks. While shark meat isn't that popular, Ramsey said that she has seen sharks left to die on the beach and that some fishermen use sharks as bait to catch giant kingfish. Researchers estimate that approximately 100 million sharks are killed per year by humans worldwide.

Sharks are crucial to marine ecosystems in Hawaii and worldwide. A study links the shark population to ocean health. As an apex or top predator, sharks maintain the balance of the ecosystem by regulating fish populations and by removing sick and injured marine animals.

When shark populations decline,  large fish can overproduce and decimate the populations of smaller fish that are crucial to keeping algae down and support reef systems according to the study.

Ramsey told the Guardian that she hopes the law will inspire similar laws in other states and hopefully worldwide. "These animals have been around for 450 million 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.”

If this new law is passed, it will go a long way to protect the endangered shark species and will help the fragile ecosystem of Hawaii and the Pacific region. It really is the right thing to do.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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