Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands – Before he was the Speaker of the House and Lietenant Governor, Diego T. Benavente was a fisherman. Today Benavente is the minority leader in the Northern Mariana Islands House of Representatives, and is making a name for himself for his conservation efforts.
“Twenty years ago I could go out in my boat and catch enough fish to stock my market,” explains Benavente. “I can’t do that anymore. My market is closed and I’ve sold my boats.”
Benavente believes the disappearance of fish is partly due to a severe decline in global shark populations. The issue was first brought to his attention by a fellow fisherman and confirmed by State Senator Clayton Hee of Hawaii as well as global shark conservation groups such as WildAid and Shark Savers.
Benavente is now championing shark conservation efforts in the Northern Mariana Islands and introduced the Shark Fin Prohibition Act last year, which prohibits the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins. Governor Benigno R. Fitial signed the bill into law on January 27, 2011. The shark fin ban is only the second of its kind and is modeled after a similar shark ban implemented in Hawaii in 2010.
Rob Stewart, producer and director of Sharkwater, was on Saipan to film the signing of the legislation as part of an upcoming documentary. According to Stewart, sharks are targeted globally for their fins, which are used as an ingredient in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy.
He says that 73 million sharks per year are killed to supply the global shark fin trade.Stewart says, “Sharks have been on earth for over 400 million years and have survived five major extinctions. As the apex predator, they ensure the health of the ocean ecosystems, keeping fish stocks healthy, maintaining balance on coral reefs, and ultimately safeguarding the future of the oceans upon which we depend.”
“The world’s oceans are in trouble,” says Benavente. “All nations, small and large, have a definite role to play in our oceans recovery.”
Benavente would like to see more governments, from national legislatures to local municipal councils, tackle the issue of shark finning and has made a challenge to governments across the world.
“A global moratorium on the sale of shark fins is a good place for all of us to start,” he says.