January 1, 2022, was a big day for bitey bois as Hawaii made the commendable move to ban shark fishing, making it the first US state to do so. The bill enforcing the ban was passed by the 2021 State Legislature and renders the capture, entanglement, and killing of a shark as punishable by law. The paperwork in favor of our finned friends is Act 51 (House Bill 553) and it applies to all shark species found in Hawaiian waters.
While there are still some details to be ironed out with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) who oversee incidents involving sharks and humans, the step is a positive one towards protecting both native wildlife and cultural practices.
“Our Department is well aware of how important sharks are to maintain healthy marine ecosystems,” said Division of Aquatic Resources Administrator Brian Neilson in a statement. “And we recognize their importance for native Hawaiian cultural practices and beliefs.”
As apex predators, sharks are considered “keystone species” as their top predator credentials mean they have a highly significant influence on the balance of a marine ecosystem. Their removal from that ecosystem can see seismic changes in the balance of prey and predators which can lead to harmful population booms and a depletion in natural resources.
Sharks also have a strong influence over the culture of Hawaii, where long held practices have sought to protect and honor sharks. According to the National Wildlife Federation, sharks are identified as ‘aumakua, ancestral family deities, in Hawaii, and kahu manō – shark guardians – would protect them in return for bountiful resources.
The new law will revitalize Hawaii’s culture of caring for sharks in restoring their protected status by outlawing the purposeful capture, entanglement, and killing of sharks for reasons outside of personal protection. The DLNR will, however, retain its power to supply special activity permits, and authorize shark fishing when it pertains to public safety.
2022 may hold further good news for sharks, as the DLNR are considering setting restrictions in place for fishing gear such as gill nets in areas that are known to be home to shark nurseries.
Anyone who should accidentally catch a shark is advised by the DLNR to avoid bringing it onboard and instead cut the line as close to its mouth as is safely possible. Failure to do so, and the purposeful capture, entanglement, or killing of a shark, will result in fines ranging from $500 to $10,000 for each shark harmed.
You can find out further details about Act 51 (House Bill 553) here.