Hawaiian lawmakers have introduced a new bill to protect any and all sharks from being killed in state waters—which, if it passes, will be the first law of its kind in America, the Guardian reports. Seems the bill was inspired by hundreds of support-letters and phone calls from around the US. "These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on," says shark conservationist Ocean Ramsey, who recently swam with a 20-foot shark. Introduced as a House bill and recast by the state Senate, the proposal would make it a misdemeanor to kill, capture, possess, abuse, or entangle any ray or shark, with penalties ranging from $500 for a first offense to $10,000 from the third offense on, per a press release.
Advocates say sharks are essential for gobbling up injured and sick marine animals and ensuring that smaller fish populations don't overgrow; in fact, sharks' very presence keeps big predators from overproducing and killing off little plant-eating fish that keep algae growth in check. Problem is, some local fisherman use sharks to bait giant kingfish, while others sell it for up to $500 a pound, often to satisfy shark-fin-soup lovers in China. Poachers kill nearly 100 million sharks annually worldwide, but critics of the bill say Hawaii's shark population hasn't changed much in years. "I'm sure this law is well-intentioned, but I'm not sure what the motivation for it is," says a research professor at the University of Hawaii. (Shark attacks are rare, but one killed a tourist in Australia in 2018.)