A public hearing last night on a bill that aims to ban shark finning and its possession on island caused a stir among local fishermen who say they are being portrayed as the “bad guys” because of the bill.
Bill 44-31, introduced by Vice Speaker BJ Cruz last week, seeks to ban the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins on Guam and imposes strict fines and imprisonment for those caught in the act.
Dozens of high school students, fishermen, activists and scientists filled the legislative public hearing room to provide testimony and show support or opposition to the bill.
Fishermen’s Cooperative Association President Manny Duenas said he opposes the bill because there is no need for it.
“I’m really disheartened by the fact that it’s implying that it’s happening here on Guam,” Duenas said. “Fishermen are not evil.”
Duenas said that there is no evidence that the local shark population is in jeopardy as stated in the intent of the bill.
He said he had scientific data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to prove that sharks are not in jeopardy in local waters.
Duenas said Guam’s waters may have more dangerous sharks than they did 20 years ago and shared that his nephew was ravaged by a tiger shark.
“Sharks are so abundant around Guam and it’s a nuisance,” he said, adding that sharks were only found in certain parts of the island in the 1970s and 1980s but are now so abundant that they are found all over the island.
Duenas suggested that the concern for shark finning is exaggerated and not appropriate in the Marianas or within any U.S. jurisdiction in the central and western Pacific region because of strict federal fishing regulations already in place.
Local fisherman John Aguon said he was concerned because he catches sharks for subsistence purposes.
“I’m not a destroyer or shark killer but let’s get more educated. Some of these people haven’t even tasted shark how can they say killing shark is bad when it’s feeding me and my family,” Aguon said.
However, Senator Rory Respicio, co-sponsor of the bill, assured Aguon that he will not be affected by the bill if enacted into law because the bill addresses commercial fishing of sharks.
Dozens of students showed up at the hearing from George Washington High School, Simon Sanchez High School and St. John’s School and provided their support for the bill.
Several shared scientific facts they learned through science classes or through movies promoting shark conservation.
“Although Guam does not have a serious issue with shark finning, our island condones it because we allow its importation,” said Angelica Gagan, one of the students.
Evelyn Quiell, President of the Shark Made Club at SSHS, read testimony on behalf of Sharkwater documentary producer Rob Stewart who was on island Monday to show support for the bill.
“Sharks have been on earth for over 400 million years and have survived five major extinctions. Their populations have dropped by over 90 percent in the last 30 years … an estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year,” Quiell read.
Local resident Mitchell Singler suggested that Bill 44-31, if passed into law, could boost tourism on island. He said it would highlight efforts being made to protect sharks and would attract tourists and divers just as Palau attracts tourists because of its marine sanctuary.