updated 7/23/2007 1:04:43 PM ET 2007-07-23T17:04:43

Ecuador's president overturned a ban on the sale of shark fins, which are popular in Asia, but stipulated they can only be sold if the sharks are caught by fishermen accidentally.

In a presidential decree Friday, Rafael Correa said the legalization of the sale of shark fins would help generate income for fishermen and added that shark fishing would remain illegal.

However, he did not say how authorities would determine if the shark had been caught accidentally or on purpose.

The 2004 ban had the "good intention of protecting sharks, but with absurd methods," a presidential statement said.

During the ban, the sale of shark fins was punishable by up to two years in prison.

Critics said the new measure will lead to increase shark catches.

Former Environment Minister Edgar Isch called it "a way to more easily evade any type of control" aimed at preserving species.

Sharks are protected in the Galapagos Islands — Ecuador's top tourist destination — where they play a key role in maintaining the archipelago's delicate ecosystem.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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