The intersection of Culture, Science and Politics

As ocean conservation becomes a worldwide mission, the approach scientists and politicians take to research and implement laws is dependent upon an in-depth understanding of the cultures they are interacting with. Furthermore, environmentalists have increasingly become aware of the need to deal with issues of race and ethnicity. It is clear that most environmentalists are white and outsiders in the places they are working to protect. Thus, honoring native traditions and beliefs has become a necessary part of conservation work. This paper seeks to understand how dynamics between indigenous peoples and mainstream environmentalists impact shark conservation movements in Hawaii.

The emergence of the global shark fin’s industry is traced back to the historical origins of traditional Chinese beliefs concerning shark’s fin soup, where the soup was a delicacy and an essential dish served at important events such as weddings and feasts (Powell). Shark fin soup represented wealth and generosity of the host and was limited to the Chinese elite (Powell). As China and other countries with ethnic Chinese roots began to grow and develop at a rapid pace so did the market for Shark fin soup resulting in the explosion of the shark fin industry (Powell).

World shark harvests have quadrupled since 1950 which has had a heavy impact on shark populations around the world (Powell). This development has involved the replacement of small-scale local subsistence shark fisheries in many developing nations with industrial commercial enterprises serving Asian markets.

à Continue talking about history of shark fin soup and other industries that heavily impact shark populations around the world

On December 21st, 2000 the Shark Finning Prohibition Act was signed into law by President at the time, Bill Clinton (Snyder 2016). The Act made it illegal to:

  1. Remove any of the fins of a shark and discard the shark carcass at sea
  2. Transfer any fins from one vessel
  3. Land any fin that is not attached to the carcass of the corresponding shark

(Bill Summary & Status).

The Act was a major step towards fighting the widespread shark finning industry which is a major threat to shark populations worldwide. “A variety of factors accounted for the passage of this legislation. But its primary sponsor, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California, repeatedly cited Hawaiian and specifically Kanaka Maoli opposition to finning as important considerations. The story of how past and present Native Hawaiian beliefs concerning sharks entered into first state and then national debates over finning is complex and revealing. Kanaka Maoli activists influenced mainstream environmentalism, but they also used this movement to achieve outcomes in line with Hawaiian objectives. At the same time, white environmentalists frequently spoke of the need to honor Native Hawaiian traditions surrounding sharks. While some of these individuals seemed to genuinely respect Kanaka Maoli traditions, others likely hoped to exploit one aspect of a culture for which they otherwise held little appreciation,” (Powell). In this particular case the importance of sharks in Hawaiian culture played a major role in the passing of this law. à Highlight the importance of indigenous beliefs on passing of law

à Other laws are in place. Talk about other Federal Laws aka Shark Conservation Act

à Talk about laws specifically in Hawaii. How have these laws been affected by indigenous peoples


Works Cited

Powell , Miles. “Soup and Slaughter: An Environmental History of the Pacific Shark’s Fin Industry.” pp. 1–20.


“Bill Summary & Status, 106th Congress (1999 – 2000), H.R.5461”. THOMAS. Library of Congress. Retrieved 14 November 2018.


Snyder, Lora. “Congress Introduces Bill to Ban the Trade of Shark Fins in the United States.” Oceana USA, 24 June 2016,


Powell , Miles. “‘How Would You Feel If Someone Were Allowed to Kill One of Your Grandparents?’: Kānaka Maoli Opposition to the Hawaiian Shark Fin Trade.” pp. 1–33.