As creatures near the top of the aquatic food chain, it's hard to imagine sharks needing any protection, but two state legislators in Hawaii are proposing exactly that.
The legislation would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly harm or kill any shark in state marine waters. Those who do so would be fined.
Save the sharks
The measure was introduced to Hawaii's state house on Jan. 22 by state Rep. Nicole Lowen (D-North Kona), who is also chairwoman of the House Environmental Protection and Energy Committee. State Sen. Mike Gabbard (D-Oahu), who is also chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee, introduced a companion version of the measure in the state senate chamber on Jan. 18.
The legislation would establish fines and makes it a misdemeanor for "any person who knowingly captures, takes, possesses, abuses or entangles any shark, whether alive or dead, or kills any shark, within state marine waters."
Penalties for a first offense would be $500, and the fine would go up to $10,000 for a third, according to West Hawaii Today.
The legislation would also extend these protections to all ray species. Currently, only manta rays have similar protections.
The legislation allows for exemptions for research, cultural practices and public safety.
"As apex predators, sharks and rays help to keep the ocean ecosystem in balance, and protecting them from unnecessary harm is essential to the health of our coral reefs. I'm hopeful that this year will be the year that we are able to take this important step," Lowen said in a statement.
This isn't the first time Lowen has attempted to give sharks and rays these protections. In 2014, Lowen tried to get legislation passed following spearing incidents of tiger sharks and rays in Kailua-Kona. The Hawaii Senate also passed a similar measure in 2018, but the legislation stalled in the House.
Hawaii already has some of the strongest anti-finning laws on the book, including prohibiting the possession of a shark fin.
Sharks serve an important function in the marine ecosystem. They keep smaller fish populations in check by eating sick and weak individuals, according to Oceana. Sharks also keep larger fish from overeating smaller fish. This allows the smaller fish to maintain a good algae balance since too much algae can stifle and harm coral reefs. Studies have demonstrated that seagrass, coral reefs and even commercial fisheries suffer when sharks aren't around.