California Shark Fin Ban on its Way to Full Senate

Posted by Stephanie Ulmer, Guest Blogger on August 30, 2011

The bill outlawing shark fins in the State of California has cleared a big hurdle and is on its way to a final vote by the full Senate. The Los Angeles Times reported on August 26th, that the bill had passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 5-2 vote. The proposed law will now move to the Senate floor, where a vote is expected within weeks. The bill, which has become quite controversial due to the popularity of shark fins in certain Asian cuisine (it is considered a delicacy by some), “has been championed by conservation groups as a way to curb [the harvest of fins], a practice that has contributed to the sharp decline of shark populations worldwide.”

Opponents of the bill have asserted that the bill unfairly discriminates against “a cultural tradition.” The Times article notes that Chinese American restaurateurs and traders have lobbied against the bill, with the support of several Chinese American lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who voted against the measure. Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has called it "an unfair attack on Asian culture and cuisine."

Supporters of the bill, including some Chinese American lawmakers, chefs and celebrities, such as NBA basketball star Yao Ming, hail the bill as a step in protecting a species that has been vastly overfished. Many believe that if protective steps are not taken now, sharks may become extinct within our lifetimes. Chinese-born Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Sunnyvale), who is a sponsor of the bill, has said that he ate shark fin soup growing up, but after he learned that the fin trade was decimating shark populations, he began to speak out and shun the practice. "I’m proud of my Chinese roots, and our culture will live and survive without shark’s fin," he said. Just before the Times reported on this important step for the bill, it printed an editorial entitled, “Take shark-fin soup off the menu.” It indicated support for the passage of the bill, finding that shark populations are in sharp decline and that California can help by passing a shark-fin ban. The editorial stated: “The loss of a cultural tradition is regrettable, but the loss of a species is tragic and the upset of the oceans’ environmental balance could be catastrophic.” Both articles carried disgusting photos as lead-ins, with one showing slaughtered shark carcasses and the other showing jars of shark fins on display in a shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Yuck! But they were good attention grabbers–this cannot be ignored any longer.

Similar legislation has been signed in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii, while President Obama signed a federal law strengthening a ban on shark finning in U.S. waters earlier this year. If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, the California law would go into effect in 2013. Not a minute too soon, the sharks would say. If you live in California, please consider contacting your State Senator to give a voice to those who cannot speak. Let’s protect the sharks for many future generations.