February 25, 2011

With Fisherman’s Help, CNMI Becomes 1st US Territory to Ban Shark Fins


By William “Bamboo” McCue

In January, CNMI became the first US territory to ban shark fins. This ban follows one put in place by Hawaii, the first US state to make it illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins. Fisherman William “Bamboo” McCue initiated the support for CNMI’s new law. He shares his story below:

“I grew up in Minnesota and loved the huge amount of water the state has- I had a creek behind my house and my brothers and I caught all sorts of fish and crayfish. We explored the area and did a lot of nature and bird watching- but back then you would not call it that. After college in Nebraska I moved quite a bit, but in those various places I worked for aquarium companies; I built, maintained, and designed aquariums up to 2000 gallons. I loved the fish and knew one day I had to be in the aquarium. 

After dive jobs in St Thomas, Saipan, and Guam, I ended up in Palau as a dive guide. Ever seen 300 manta rays in migration formation? I have. Even then I saw divers who were poorly trained hurting the very thing they came to see and appreciate. I ran out of money and left. I became a USCG captain, moved back to Saipan and started fishing. I had learned so much about fish behavior during my dives that I knew I could be successful in recreational sport fishing, and I was right. I spent the next several years fishing on Saipan for tuna, wahoo, marlin, sailfish- and many more nearshore and pelagic species. Every single fish we caught was eaten, and that meant the island did not have to import the exact same amount of refrigerated meat or fish. I became very good at fishing and won several small tournaments, then I won the grand prize in the biggest tournament on the island- the Saipan International Sportsfishing Derby. I got my picture with the Governor, and was king of the island for a year; everyone knew “Captain Bamboo”. 

I still had an urge to travel and did a season of sportsfishing in Costa Rica, and a short stint of on-camera work for ESPN2 in the Marshall Islands’ remote Bikini Atoll. Then I moved to Midway Atoll in the NWHI for the summers, and Panama for the winters. 


In all my travels, diving, and fishing I saw things few have seen. The ocean is many, many things, but it is incredible … and also fragile. In Palau I saw the Taiwanese commercial boats hang shark fins on the rails. In the Marshalls I saw ton after ton of tuna and marlin being offloaded for Chinese boats- some of it for cat food. At every island I visited were large commercial fleets- and every fleet caught tuna and finned sharks. It was disgusting to me. I released many marlin and sailfish- my island crew members thought I was loco until I told them the fish gods would be happy- and they all related that to the island elders’ cultural teachings and adopted the behavior in one way or another. 

I’ve been back in the USA for a decade now- but my heart is still in Micronesia. When Hawaii’s bill to ban the sale/trade or possession of shark fins was going through the process of becoming law, I knew I had to find a way to have the same ban in the CNMI- of which Saipan is the biggest island. I asked my fishing friend Diego Benavente- long time speaker of the House of Representatives, former LT Governor, and current house member- to introduce a bill that replicated Hawaii’s law. He said he’d think about it. After I gave him more information and asked others with more scientific expertise than myself, he was convinced and introduced such a bill. Many in the marine conservation world were skeptical that a fisherman really had good intentions with the bill, and some gave it little chance of passing. I worked with four other dedicated individuals off island who had the required scientific knowledge, and many on Saipan who could work inside the systems. Outsiders are rarely trusted on remote islands (rightly so) – but I was not an outsider. The combination worked beautifully, and many around the island and around the world climbed aboard. The bill is now law and the neighboring island and largest in Micronesia- Guam- has a similar bill in process. 

I will not be resting until all of Micronesia is a Shark Fin Free Zone! I need all the help I can get- the OCEAN needs all the help we can give. You can help and follow the efforts on Facebook- check for Shark Fin Free Zone! There is one for CNMI, Guam, California, Washington and soon many more.”