Researchers push back against shark protection bill

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Legislation meant to protect Hawaii’s shark population was altered at the 11th hour to remove the apex predators from the bill amid concerns from the scientific community.

The bill was intended to extend protections already in place for manta rays to include all rays and sharks, West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday.

It would have made it illegal to “capture, take, possess, abuse, or entangle any shark, whether alive or dead, or kill any shark, within state marine waters,” the measure said. There were exceptions for academic research, but the scientific community found them inadequate.

University of Hawaii shark researcher Kim Holland said researchers would be forced to apply for permits from Department of Land and Natural Resources personnel without scientific expertise.

“It will be virtually impossible to prove that someone is ‘knowingly’ fishing for sharks,” wrote Holland, adding state enforcement resources are already insufficient for current polices.

Holland also said the bill was too ambiguous in defining terms such as “take” and “harassment.”

The measure went on to define such action as a misdemeanor, designating penalties of a $500 fine, a $2,000 fine and a $10,000 fine for first, second and third offenses, respectively.

Sen. Kai Kahele, a Democrat from Hilo and chairman of the conference committee that oversaw the bill, said concern from the academic community was behind the last-minute alterations. Potential problems were expressed by the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Hawaii at Manoa to House conference committee chairman Rep. Ryan Yamane (D-Oahu), Kahele added.

“They do shark testing (and) research,” Kahele said. “(Yamane) was concerned that some of their concerns had not been addressed. I guess collaboration had not happened with the research component. And so they decided to take the sharks out of the bill.”

Hawaii has no shark fisheries, meaning there is no industry that relies solely or primarily on catching sharks to put food on the table. Sometimes sharks are killed by accident, and Kahele acknowledged there could be some potential impact to the state’s longline fishermen were HB 808 passed in its original form.