Perhaps the most significant legislation involving sharks in US history was passed yesterday by the Hawaiian House of Representatives. This bill will prohibit the sale, possession, and trade of any type of shark fin or shark fin product in the State, including State waters.
This bill has stirred up a great deal of political debate, pitting the concerns of ocean health against a lucrative trade. And has also spurred somewhat of a cultural debate, since the Chinese cultural preference for consuming shark fin soup runs counter to the Hawaiian reverence and respect for sharks as powerful "aumakua", which in Hawaiian is defined as a benevolent guardian spirit or family protector.
Former Hawaiian First Lady Vicky Cayetano is the inspiration behind the bill and asked Sen. Clayton Hee to write the legislation. She is a Chinese immigrant, extremely well respected, and a very outspoken proponent of the bill. Sen. Hee, who is half Chinese and half Hawaiian, has served in Hawaii's State Legislature since 1982 and is Chairman of the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program. He introduced the bill on January 20th.
Both Sen. Hee and Mrs. Cayetano have fought hard to keep the bill alive and are determined to see it passed into law. Mrs. Cayetano provided powerful testimony at the recent House Judiciary Committee Hearing, including her statement that "shark fin soup is about as cultural as bound feet". Their efforts were also instrumental in getting the meaure resurrected last week after it had been deferred by the House Judicial Committee by Rep. Karamatsu.
Local conservationists, Stefanie Brendl of Shark Allies and Inga Gibson, of The Humane Society of the United States, have completely dedicated themselves to advocating the passage of this bill for the past two months. Stefanie, through her tireless grass roots efforts, has garnered widespread international attention and support. And meanwhile Inga has been working non stop to help to iron out legal issues, drafting amendments and working on wording changes to ensure that the bill is fair and will hold up to scrutiny. The efforts of these two dedicated women have contributed greatly to keeping SB 2169 moving through all the various committees that had to review and vote on the measure. They have spent almost every other day at the capitol meeting with committee members, working with the opposition and helping to draft amendments, all the while spreading education about sharks, finning and the bill.
And of course the groundswell of public support from within the Hawaiian community and from around the world has been nothing short of phenomenal. Stefanie has rallied the troops at every critical step along the way, assisted by some key contributors, all of whom have spent many, many hours glued to phones and keyboards, pulling out all stops in efforts to keep the bill going.
Among this avalanche of support, most notable has been a statement signed by fifty one members of the Mission Blue Voyage, a National Geographic project which was imagined to fulfill Sylvia Earle's 2009 TEDPrize wish to save the oceans!! This list is a who's who of the world’s most renowned ocean experts – marine scientists, deep sea explorers, technology innovators, policy makers, business leaders, environmentalists, activists and artists.
More letters of support came from renowned Artist of the Sea and Hawaiian resident, Wyland, as well as Hollywood actors, prominent business leaders, and scientists.
The combination of all of these elements has contributed to getting the bill to this point. It has made it through two Senate Committees, three Judicial Committees and a full vote on the House Floor. Many hurdles have been overcome, but there are still a few more steps to go.
Next week the bill will go to a Conference meeting, in which one Senate Committee and one House Committee get together to clean up any issues with the language, and the "defective" 2050 date will be corrected - see note below. For example, many of you read about opposition from Shark Researchers at the University of Hawaii. They were initially opposed to the bill, because they feared that it would make it illegal for them to possess specimens needed for their research. The original bill did include an exemption for educational and research purposes, but this exemption was taken out at some point in the process. After addressing this concern with the researchers, they are now strongly in support of the bill provided the education and research exemption is included.
Because attempts to kill the bill were not successful, it's very possible that a new wave of opposition may surface.
During the Conference meetings, there will likely be many voices trying to be heard. Some interest groups will surely be vocal in wanting exemptions and less stringent language. Some compromises may have to be made. Support for the bill and full protection for sharks is strong, however.
After the Conference meetings, the bill will move on to a Senate vote.
And after the Senate vote it will be sent to the Governor. The Governor can sign the bill into law or veto it.
At this point we need to sit tight and try to be patient for the next week as the bill goes through the conference process. We'll send another update soon.
In the meantime, thank you to everyone who wrote, made phone calls and spread the word over the past two months!! Our voices really do count and all this effort does make a difference!! Our input will be needed again soon; we'll send an update to let you know what we can do to help.
Please hang in there and stay with us over the coming weeks until this bill is finally signed into law!
** Note about 2050 date:
Legislators insert a "defective date" on many bills that are expected to go through a great deal of discussion and amendments. When a committee feels that all issues have not been resolved, but they want to pass the bill out of their committee to keep it alive, (because the deadlines are so tight) they add the defective date. This signals to everyone that more discussion is needed, but that the bill is essentially alive. Without this option, some bills would get stuck in a committee until every single issue was resolved beyond any doubt. And as a result, these bills would never make it through all the steps within the designated time.
A defective date also forces the bill into a "conference meeting", which means that the bill has to be approved by the "originating body". Again, that's because after a bill has gone through a number of changes, the originating body (in this case Senator Hee's committee in the Senate) is given the opportunity to agree or disagree with the other Committee's additions and changes. This process prevents the bill from turning into something completely different from its original intent.
Once Representatives and Senators that have been designated to the conference committee have agreed on the final draft, they remove the defective date and assign the "effective date". Generally the effective date will be July of the same year or the beginning of the next year.