On January 19, 1999, at Pier 36, Honolulu Harbor, I stumbled on a sight that was both impressive and depressive. Before me were bails and bails of shark fins spread over the pier. Some of the bails were being loaded into a tractor trailer and others were being offloaded from a boat called the "Two Star".
As I took out my camera and started taking pictures one of the men loading the fins came over to me and told me to stop. Now, the average person knows that this is a public pier, so something seemed wrong with this. I decided to go down to the DLNRs office, which is located nearby, and let them know what was happening.
Branch Chief Michael Laupalio and Conservation Officer Walter Joslin immediately went back to Pier 36 and interviewed the fishermen. They quickly found out that some the men working aboard the vessel didnt have a commercial fishing license. I also telephoned the National Marine Fisheries Service to let them know what was going on.
We know that a great many people are concerned that the shark population is declining. Here, in Honolulu aboard the "Two Star", we witnessed first hand the fact that they had eleven tons of shark fin aboard. That is, not the whole shark, just the fins! The bails did not have any tags to identify the species, number, or location where the fins were taken. The "Two Star" did not have a transhipment permit, or a limited entry long line permit, and some of the crew did not have commercial fishing licenses.
When the citations were issued the captain told the fishermen to give the tickets to him and he would pay the fine. The fine is $50. Reportedly NMFS seized a check related to the shipment but N.O.A.A General Council ordered the check be returned.
The fins, reported to be worth $200,000, were shipped out of the United States. This case is a perfect example of where the punishment does not fit the crime. With this type of penalty, the commercial fishing industry sees this as just the cost of doing business.
In April 1998, it was documented that the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) permitted American fishing vessels based in Honolulu, Hawaii, to tranship thousands of pounds of shark fin from foreign fishing vessels. Specifically, NMFS authorized a long line fishing vessel, the "CHRIS", to rendezvous with a foreign fishing vessel (name unknown) approximately 210 miles from Honolulu to pick up large quantities of dried shark fin and bring them back to Honolulu, from where they were shipped out of the US.
The transhipment of shark fin is presenting a new problem that poses a potential threat to human safety and the agriculture industry. Unlike other fish products that are shipped in brine or are frozen, the shark fins are dried and exposed to the elements, permitting flies and other insects to infest them. Some South and Central American countries where the were caught are home to several types of flesh eating flies such as the blow fly. There is a potential that these insects could be introduced to Hawaii via transhipment of shark fins.
Mr. Neil Reimer of the State Department of Agriculture states "Of concern for me is the Calliphoridae Phaenicia sericata. We have this species in Hawaii but the strain we have does not infest living tissue. There are strains throughout the world which will feed in living tissue."
A call to both State and Federal Agricultural Inspection Branches found that neither of them were aware that the practice of transhipping shark fins to Hawaii was occurring. However, each expressed concerns about the flies being introduced to Hawaii. In fact, the DOCARE Officers informed me that they had seen fly larvae on the fins from the "Two Star" and are going to take samples in for inspection.
The shark fin fisheries industry has contributed to the decline of some shark species and threatens numerous others. The impact is so great that the parties to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), at their tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Zimbabwe, 6/20/97, stated the following in a request for information from members:
NOTING the increase in the international trade in parts and derivatives of sharks, and the document on this issue (Doc. 9.58) submitted by the United States of America:
CONCERNED that some shark species are heavily utilized around the world for their fins, skins and meat;
NOTING that levels of exploitation in some cases are unsustainable and may be detrimental to the long-term survival of certain shark species;
NOTING that, at present, sharks are not specifically managed or conserved by any multilateral or regional agreement for the management of marine fisheries;
NOTING further the ongoing initiatives to foster international co-operation in the management of fisheries resources;
CONCERNED that the international trade in parts and products of sharks lacks adequate monitoring and control;
RECOGNIZING that the members of the IUCN Species Survival Commissions Shark Specialist Group are currently reviewing the status of sharks and the global trade in their parts and derivatives in the course of developing an action plan on shark conservation;
CONSIDERING that the Conference of the Parties has competence to consider any species subject to international trade;
RECOGNIZING that other intergovernmental organizations and bodies, including the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) of the United Nations, and the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), have undertaken efforts to collect elaborate statistical data on catches and landings of diverse marine species, including sharks;
RECOGNIZING further that the collection of species-specific data is a complex task, considering that there are some 100 species of sharks being exploited both commercially and for recreation, and that numerous countries utilize this marine resource;
THE CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES TO THE CONVENTION
URGES the Parties to submit to the Secretariat all available information concerning the trade and biological status of sharks, including historical catch and trade data on shark fisheries;
The National Marine Fisheries Service, in recognition and understanding of the impending crisis and, in a response to CITES request for information, presented a discussion paper entitled An Overview of the Biological Status of Shark Species, as follows;
"The limitations on available data on shark fisheries worldwide and the difficulty in interpreting much of this information, can be summarized as follows:
CLack of basic life history information (growth rate, longevity, age at maturity, fecundity, recruitment).
CLack of population data (temporal and spatial distribution in general and by sex and age, migratory nature vs. Site fidelity, schooling dynamics, lack of baseline population data, lack of understanding of stock structure and population dynamics
CLack of or unreliable nature of specie specific catch and effort data with size at capture
CReluctance of some nations and fishermen to submit catch and effort or bycatch data
CMisleading or significantly incomplete published catch statistics for shark fisheries
CLack of fishery-independent shark data
CLack of fishery management or management plans
CLack of ecological studies (habitat requirements, predator-prey relationships, etc)
Even though sharks are on the decline and there is a lack of information in general, NMFS in Hawaii has authorized the transshipment of shark fins from boats that fish anywhere in the world. The sharks are either intentionally caught or are the by catch of other fishing activity. These may include long lines, drift gill nets, or pair trawling. The majority of the sharks are brought along side or aboard the vessels where the fishermen cut off their fins and toss the carcasses back into the ocean, sometimes alive but eventually to die. This is how it works as explained by Elaine of Norko Marine Agency Inc:
A supply vessel roams the worlds oceans, refueling and resupplying fishing boats. The fishing boats sell their shark fins to the supply vessel, where they are accumulated until they rendevous with an American fishing vessel approximately 200 miles from Hawaii, on the high seas. The American vessel transports the fins to Honolulu where they are placed in containers and shipped out.
When asked what types of sharks, where they were from, and how many sharks were caught she stated that she did not know. Officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service said they did not know either and suggested that I contact the State for information on transshipments. They told me the State kept records on shark fin landings. I contacted the State and was told that they did not know anything about transshipments and I should contact the National Marine Fisheries Service. At this point I started to hum "Just Follow the Bouncing Ball".
Though new to the job, Mr. Timothy Johns, the Chairman of Land and Natural Resources, shared with me that the issue of shark finning was of great concern to him and his agency and that he had assigned his staff to review the matter, work with both the environmentalists and the fishermen in the community to address the concerns that this practice has presented.
We also sent a letter to Ms. Kitty Simonds at the Western pacific Fisheries Council asking questions but have not received as response.
House Bill #1706 is currently before the Hawaii State House to address some of the problems relating to shark fins and transhipment.
You can visit our website at envirowatch.org or write us at P.O. Box 89-3062 Mililani, Hawaii 96789, or 808-625-2175 ...Carroll