The bill was originally introduced by Representative Diego Tenorio Benavente into the CNMI House of Representatives, where it was approved on November 17th.
The landmark bill recognizes sharks to be “an essential element of the ocean’s ecosystem” because of their role as apex predator of the sea. It seeks to stop the severe over-fishing of sharks that occurs worldwide in order to feed the status-driven demand for shark fin soup.
The bill makes it “unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute shark fins in the CNMI”. The bill is similar in that regard to one recently passed in the State of Hawaii. If signed into law, the CNMI will join another Pacific island nation, Palau, which has also taken a bold stand to protect its nation’s sharks.
“The Senate’s move today takes the CNMI one step closer to stopping the shark fin trade, perhaps the most wasteful and destructive practice affecting ocean life”, said Peter Knights of WildAid. “It’s heartening to see the CNMI taking the lead among Pacific island nations to adopt tough anti-shark-fin-trade laws to protect their nation’s wildlife and resources from such destruction.”
The bill goes on to explain that sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing because they reproduce slowly. It is the combination of overfishing and inability to overcome it via reproduction that has resulted in alarming shark population declines in recent decades.
“Increasingly, the countries most dependent on the ocean are rallying to the defense of sharks, perhaps the ocean’s most important inhabitants,” said Michael Skoletsky, of Shark Savers. “The CNMI’s intelligent decision to preserve sea life will benefit future generations and attract lucrative underwater tourism, rather than allowing foreign fisheries and shark fin cartels to plunder its resources.”
Sharks, as apex predators, play a vital role in regulating the health of important commercial fish species, population balance, and coral reefs. Despite this importance, up to 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, with some shark populations declining by as much as 90%. Stopping the shark fin trade is seen as a critical means to stop the depletion of shark populations.
The bill still needs to be reconciled with the slightly different version approved by the House before being signed into law by Governor Benigno R. Fitial.