California Proposes Ban on Shark Fins

By James Hourani
|  Tuesday, Mar 8, 2011  |  Updated 5:27 PM PDT
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Imagine a ban on steak or caviar. It may seem unlikely, but some have proposed banning the Chinese equivalent of those foods.

Ted Chen

Imagine a ban on steak or caviar. It may seem unlikely, but some have proposed banning the Chinese equivalent of those foods.

Shark fin soup is a high-end staple on the menu of top Chinese restaurants but for centuries the soup has also been a traditional part of Chinese culture symbolizing wealth, power and virility.

But now in California the soup is in danger of being banned. Legislation recently introduced in Sacramento would make the possession, sale or distribution of shark fins illegal.

Hawaii has already passed a similar bill (which begins June 30) and Oregon and Washington are considering bans. The Hawaii law will impose fines of $5,000 to $15,000 for first-time offenders.

Each year 73 million sharks are killed for shark fin soup. It's considered a brutal practice, as the fins are typically cut off while the shark is still alive. The shark than dies a slow death. Conservationists say 90 percent of the world's shark population has disappeared due to overfishing.

The California bill has garnered support from scientists and environmental groups, as well as sport and commercial fishermen. But some in the state's Chinese community feel the ban is unfair and singles out Asian Americans.

State Senator Leland Yee, who is running for mayor of San Francisco, told the New York Times that "the practice of shark's fin soup has been in our culture for thousands of years. There ought to be a way to find a balance between the environment and preserving culture and heritage."

California has been at the forefront of shark protection. In 1997, the state passed legislation protecting white sharks.

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