California Moves Closer to Banning Shark Fins, But The Debate Rages

shark fin soup photo

Photo by Robert S Donovan via Flickr CC

In a move to end the shark fin trade within California, the state assembly passed AB376, on a 62-8 vote Monday afternoon, as TreeHugger Stephen Messenger reported. The bill still has to pass the Senate in order to ban shark fins from stores and restaurants, but it does not come without a hearty debate, none of which makes a lot of sense. AB376 states, "This bill, except as specified, would make it unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin, as defined." That means shark fin soup, a menu item that is as much a status symbol as a part of the Chinese culture, would be illegal starting January 1, 2013.

The SF Gate reports that Assemblyman Paul Fong, who authored the bill, advocates putting the environment before cultural issues, stating, "Once we lose the top predator, we will watch the rest of the ocean collapse."

This is something that scientists, marine biologists and conservation experts have stated time and again. Sharks are apex predators and therefore mature and reproduce slowly. Humans are killing upwards of 78 million sharks every year -- a rate that is entirely unsustainable for marine ecosystems.

However, the bill is not without debate:

Opponents - including San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma - argue that the measure unfairly targets the Chinese community and say that existing laws are adequately protecting sharks. Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park (Los Angeles County), noted that California issues permits that allow fishermen to legally kill thousands of sharks each year.

"If sharks are an endangered species and are being imported illegally from abroad, why not start in California and ban the taking of sharks in California?" he said. "This unfairly targets one community, a community I represent ... and that brings into question the issue of fairness."

Why This Bill Matters - And Is Not "Unfair"
The bill is less about unfairly targeting a community, and more about protecting marine ecosystems. By cutting off outlets for the product, lawmakers can help bring us a step closer to ending shark finning, or at the very least bringing it back down to a more sustainable rate.

Because shark fins are a part of Chinese culture, with shark fin soup served at important business meetings and family events, there is no avoiding the Asian community being affected. In fact, it's not only the elite who have access to the fare. As SFWeekly, a San Francisco based publication states:

In San Francisco's Chinatown neighborhood, shark flesh is so ubiquitous that dim sum shops advertise shark fin dumplings for $1. Your correspondent can report that the fare tastes like a goopy pork dumpling, and is definitely not worth a shark's cruel death.

Is losing a menu item more important than losing animals that have been on the planet for millions of years, and which are vital to the health of ecosystems? The short answer is no. Soup (or dumplings) is not more important than sharks. And the idea that the bill is somehow targeting a certain group of people is simply absurd. It is targeted to end the market for a commodity that cannot continue on without serious harm to our oceans.

Hopefully, the state Senate will pass the bill and it will become law with California following Hawaii, which banned the sale of shark fins last year.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this
More on Shark Finning
Is China Finally Taking Steps To Ban Sharkfin Trade? Legislation Hits World's Largest Market for Fins
Scientists Track Origins of Shark Fins Using DNA "Zip Codes"
Ocean Film Fest 2011: Great White Sharks Disappearing Into Soup Bowls? (Video)
What Is Shark Fin Soup and Why Should it Be Banned in California and Beyond?

Related Content on