Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Shark Fin Ban in Northern Mariana Islands

New Shark Fin Ban: (from left to right) Filmmaker Rob Stewart, Laurie Peterka, Shawn Heinrichs, Cinta Kaipat, Meaghan Hassel-Shearer, and Northern Mariana Islands governor Benigno R. Fitial during the shark fin signing.
Shark finning ban now a Northern Mariana Islands law

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) marked another milestone yesterday by becoming the first U.S. territory to ban shark fins.

It was inspired by Hawaii, the first U.S. state to make it illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins. The CNMI, in turn, inspired Guam to also introduce a similar bill.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who signed the bill into law yesterday morning, said this should also inspire other island nations and countries to pass their own shark protection laws.

A Proud Moment: Local officials and filmmaker Rob Stewart join (front row: left to right) Governor Benigno R. Fitial, Lt. Governor Eloy Inos, and Delegate Gregorio Camacho Sablan for a ceremonial signing on Saipan.
The new law prohibits possession, selling, offering for sale, trading, or distributing shark fins in the CNMI. It, however, allows catching of sharks for subsistence or non-commercial purposes.

Shortly after Fitial signed the shark protection law, the Humane Society International, Shark Savers, and WildAid congratulated the CNMI leadership “in championing shark protection in the region.”

“With passage of this bill, yet another region of the Pacific takes a strong stand against the trade of shark fins and the sale of shark fin soup. It sets a great example for the region to ensure a sustainable future for the islands,” said WildAid executive director Peter Knights.

Fitial said he received only positive comments about what he described as a “landmark” legislation, and that he was never pressured by anybody not to sign the bill.

“Today, we proudly follow suit behind Palau's creation of a shark sanctuary in 2009, Hawaii's law banning all shark products in 2010, and President Obama's enactment of the Shark Conservation Act just this past January 4th,” Fitial told the crowd inside the conference room who witnessed the signing.

Restaurants in the CNMI that possess shark fins may still serve shark fin soup, sell or offer for sale shark fins within 90 days from yesterday. After that, it will be illegal to do so.

Work doesn't stop here

House minority leader Diego T. Benavente, the bill's author, said the work does not stop here. He said attention should be focused on enforcing the law.

“I'm just so happy that it's signed into law not because it's my bill and that it's the first public law to be signed this year. It's because of the fact that I truly believe in the legislation, that it will make a difference in the lives of CNMI people but also to people in other parts of the world by helping to protect sharks and the marine environment,” said Benavente, a fisherman himself.

Persons found in violation of the new law may be fined not less than $5,000 but not more than $30,000, and/or imprisoned for not more than six months.

This early, Fitial said, he has already received inquiries from a Hong Kong-based entity planning to come to the CNMI for eco-tourism, as a result of the anti-shark fin law.

Sharkwater: Rob Stewart
at the shark fin ban signing

Rob Stewart, director of the acclaimed documentary Sharkwater, was also at the bill signing, which he said will be included in his next film.

Stewart came to Saipan at the invitation of San Vicente Elementary School's sixth grade students of teacher Kathy Pagapular.

“I could have said no, but the fact that a grade 6 class sees that there's a change needed in the world and tries to do something about it, it's huge, and if I could play any part in encouraging young people to take matters into their own hands and try to make the world a better place, I'll do that,” he said in an interview.

After spending Wednesday diving with sharks and hanging out with eagle rays, Stewart said it's an amazing experience to witness the Thursday bill signing, which he hopes will be replicated in other island nations and countries.

Also present at the bill signing were Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan, Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz, other CNMI lawmakers, other government officials and community members supporting a global movement to protect sharks.

Last-minute calls

On the eve of his bill signing, Fitial said he got a call from Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council executive director Kitty Simonds at 9:30pm on Wednesday, but he said the call was only to remind him that there's already a federal law that prohibits shark finning.

Wespac is tasked with managing fisheries in U.S. waters in this part of the world.

Fitial, in an interview with reporters after the bill signing, said he told Simonds he's aware of the federal statute which he thinks is stricter than the one he's about to sign. The governor said he's comfortable with the bill he signed.

The governor said he also got a call from Hawaii State Sen. Clayton Hee early Thursday morning, asking whether he would sign the law after reports came out that there were some concerns about it.

“I told him the specific time that I'd sign the law-at 9:30am,” Fitial said, adding that Hee would have wanted to come to Saipan for the signing.

Hee's bill became the strongest shark protection law in the nation. He was on Saipan in December to drum up support for Benavente's bill, which is modeled after Hee' bill that became law in Hawaii last year.

Fitial said the CNMI has seen much progress in preventing overfishing, minimizing bycatch, and protecting fish stocks and habitats. “However, there is still room to do more,” he added.

To protect its natural wealth, the CNMI has created marine protected areas, has been doing coral reef monitoring, and holding educational outreach programs to teach people about the importance of conservation, among other things.

“Now with the implementation of the Shark Fin Prohibition Act, we can add protecting the animals at the top of the marine food chain-sharks-to that list,” said Fitial.

Fitial, who was also interviewed by Stewart for his Sharkwater sequel, shared that sharks also have medicinal uses. He said when he was still infant, his folks used shark liver to help cure him of an illness.

Positive international spotlight

Up to 73 million sharks are used in shark fin soup every year and the trade has been the major factor in the decimation of global shark populations.

Humane Society International said they have already seen the positive ripple effect as Guam's legislature has picked up the torch from the CNMI and is contemplating a similar bill.

“The legislation shines a positive international spotlight on the CNMI and positions the islands as a pioneer in shark and ocean conservation,” said Iris Ho, wildlife campaign manager for Humane Society International which, together with its partner organizations, is one of the world's largest animal protection organizations.

Shark Savers, an international shark conservation organization, said the historic CNMI law recognizes that “sharks are one of the top predators in the marine food chain and play an important role in our ocean's ecosystem. Sharks have characteristics that make them more vulnerable to overfishing than most fish.”

It said the CNMI joins island nations and regions in taking strong actions to protect sharks, including Palau, the Maldives, and Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

“One by one, Pacific Island communities like the CNMI are taking steps to protect valuable shark species to ensure the health of their precious marine environments,” said Michael Skoletsky, executive director of Shark Savers.

Benavente's bill, House Bill 17-94, House Draft 1, Senate Draft 1 is now CNMI Public Law 17-27.

Published in the Saipan Tribune on Friday, January 28, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shark Tourism Possible Revenue-Generating Resource for NMI

Re-printed from the Marianas Variety

‘Shark tourism’ a possible revenue-generating resource for NMI
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 12:00AM By Raquel C. Bagnol - Reporter
E-mail Print

WITH over 30 species in CNMI waters, “shark tourism” can be a possible resource to generate more revenues in the commonwealth.

“Sharkwater” director Rob Stewart asks the community to support the anti-shark fin law during the Saipan Rotary Club meeting at the Hyatt yesterday. Photo by Raquel C. Bagnol “Sharkwater” director Rob Stewart, who was yesterday’s speaker at the Saipan Rotary Club meeting at the Hyatt, said shark tourism is a form of ecotourism in which the communities help tourists and divers see live sharks.

Stewart said shark tourism is becoming a success in some places such as Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Bahamas and Palau.

“Each year, hundreds of divers and tourists come to these places to see live sharks underwater, and this is one way the CNMI can benefit from its underwater resources,” he said.

He also discussed the importance of the shark fin ban measure, which the governor is scheduled to sign on Thursday.

He said the CNMI will become one of the few jurisdictions in the world to ban shark finning.

“Shark finning is an unmonitored and unmanaged multi-billion dollar industry, and each year, over 100 million sharks are killed for their fins,” Stewart said.

A pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 to $400, and shark finning has increased for the past decades due to the increased demand for shark fin soup and traditional cures, he added.

Stewart said it took him over five years to film “Sharkwater,” a documentary which won 22 international awards, and his aim is to get people to think of sharks differently.

“Sharks are not dangerous. They’re not mindless killers and they are not interested in people. Sharks are the ones who are in danger around people,” he said.

He said people should start to realize that “if we are going to survive on this planet as a species, we need to conserve it and protect the sharks.”

Steward said shark finning, which is the removal of shark fins and discarding the shark carcass back to the sea, is equivalent to cutting off a man’s arms and legs and throwing him into the forest.

“Sharks sometimes take a day or two to die and when they are tossed back into the sea without fins, they will be unable to swim. They sink slowly toward the bottom of the sea and wait to die and be eaten by other fish,” Stewart said.

He said any shark regardless of age and size of species can become the victim of shark finning anywhere in the world.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rob Stewart Cleans Up Saipan

Photo: Aya Matsumoto
'Sharkwater' director, volunteers conduct Sunday beach cleanup
Saipan Tribune

Rob Stewart, the acclaimed director of the documentary Sharkwater, joined some 30 volunteers during the beach cleanup behind Aquarius Beach Towers in Chalan Kanoa yesterday morning.

The volunteers collected a truckload or about 120 lbs of trash from the beach down by the Sugar Dock and all the way to the Aquarius beach.

Beautify CNMI!: Cinta Kaipat, Rob Stewart, Shawn Heinrichs, and Aya Matsumoto
Having participated in a recent beach cleanup in Hong Kong, Stewart noted the importance of doing beach cleanups regularly.

“It shows a great sense of care and investment in your land,” Stewart told Saipan Tribune.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rob Stewart of Sharkwater to speak at AMP on Monday!

Rob Stewart (the director of "Sharkwater", will be visiting the CNMI this upcoming week and will speak at American Memorial Park at 6:30pm this Monday (Jan 24th).

Rob will be showing some of the footage he has accumulated on sharks on his world-wide travels filming them, as well as discussing shark conservation efforts, how the CNMI community can get more involved, and the work on his upcoming film (part of which he is filming here in the CNMI!)

Please join us for this exciting and rare event at AMP this Monday, and please help us spread the word to others that may be interested.

The event is free and open to the public; seating is limited, so come early to ensure admittance. For planning purposes, the event is expected to last between 60 and 90 minutes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shirley's Coffee Shop First Clean Up for 2011

Monday, January 17th, for the MLK holiday, Shirley's staff and family gathered at Sugar Dock behind the Aquarius Beach Hotel for their first clean up of 2011. A total of 21 people participated and collected about 85 lbs of trash. Shirley's adopted the Aquarius/Sugar Dock area in 2009. In recognition of their commitment, Beautify CNMI! awarded Shirley's Environmental Steward award in 2010.

THANK YOU SHIRLEY'S STAFF AND RELATIVES --- keep up the great work! We really appreciate your continued efforts and we know that the families that frequent the beach in that area are ever so grateful!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Celebrity Beach Clean Up!

This just in from MINA (Mariana Islands Nature Alliance):

Greetings! Next week, Saipan will be host to an amazing individual. Rob Stewart, the acclaimed filmmaker and director of the documentary, "Sharkwater" will be participating in a MINA sponsored beach clean up for youth volunteers on January 23rd from 9am - 12pm, at the beaches behind Aquarius Hotel.

MINA will be providing trash bags and gloves to aid in garbage collection, as well as coolers and ice. Volunteers are asked to help with a case of water per group so that everyone could stay hydrated throughout the days events. Everyone is welcome to come!

For any information please call Sam Sablan or Jon Igitol at 233-REEF.

Visit MINA on the web at

Friday, January 07, 2011

2011 Green Bulletin Newsletter now available!

Now available - The Winter/Spring 2011 Edition of the Green Bulletin, a quarterly newsletter featuring environmental volunteer opportunities, information and tips for a healthier island. Please see the attached or go to this link:

The Green Bulletin is produced at the CNMI Division of Environmental Quality, with cooperation from partnering agencies and organizations, for the Coral Reef Initiative with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Lisa Huynh Eller
Federal Programs Coordinator - Outreach and Publications
NMI Division of Environmental Quality
Coral Reef Initiative/Nonpoint Source Pollution Branch
PO Box 501304
Saipan, MP 96950
Phone: (670) 664-8500
Fax: (670) 664-8540

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

'Oceans' for First Friday Films this week!

Disney’s OCEANS will be featured at the next First Friday Films event. Bring the whole family to enjoy this beautifully shot movie this Friday, Jan. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at American Memorial Park.

Nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered by water and OCEANS boldly chronicles the mysteries that lie beneath. Directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud dive deep into the very waters that sustain all of mankind—exploring the harsh reality and the amazing creatures that live within. Narrated by Pierce Brosnan and featuring spectacular never-before-seen imagery captured by the latest underwater technologies, OCEANS offers an unprecedented look beneath the sea in a powerful motion picture.
Members of the Marine Mammal Response Network (MMRN) will speak about the whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals that are found in CNMI waters and how our community can contribute to our knowledge of and support the conservation of these animals.

The Pacific Historic Parks (formerly the Arizona Memorial Museum Association) Bookstore, located inside the visitor’s center, will be open until 8:30 p.m. All proceeds go to community education programs.

For planning purposes, the movie runs about 80 minutes long. As always, “First Friday Films” is free and open to the public. Visit our website for more information and to stay up on future events:

Hope to see you Friday!