California, which tends to lead the nation when environmental issues are concerned, is on the cusp of making the sale of shark fins, and more directly, shark fin soup, illegal. The proposed ban on shark fin soup has pitted environmentalists against Chinese Americans who consider the food a delicacy and aphrodisiac. The bill, sponsored by California State Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) has passed the state’s assembly but may meet resistance in the state senate. It specifically calls for the banning of the sale shark fin soup in the state.
The soup, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, is considered a delicacy and has been served (at some places for $80 a bowl) for hundreds of years, and is a highly regarded food item at Chinese weddings and banquets in the state. However, the process of acquiring the shark fins has many calling for a ban. Fishing ships capture large schools of sharks and fin them, a process of cutting off the fins of the sharks and throwing the rest of the shark, often alive, back into the ocean to drown. Federal law has made it illegal to bring sharks to shore with their fins cut off. The fins, which are harvested primarily off the coast of China and Mexico, are then imported into the United States, which is legal. The practice has been decried for years by environmental groups such as Sea Shepherd and EnviroWatch, as well as conservationists and scientists who claim that the killing of so many sharks causes huge disruptions in the ecosystems in which the sharks are taken. Some sharks, such as the Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), are near extinction, hunted for their meaty fins.
Two California state senators, Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) and Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) both of Chinese ancestry, have written and proposed an amendment that allows the sale of sharks and their fins that are caught in California waters legally as well as the importation of fins from foreign waters that are “certified” caught in a sustainable fashion, the report stated. Shark fin soup has already been banned, effective June 30, 2011 in the state of Hawaii, which has a large population of people of Chinese ancestry, and similar bills have been introduced in Oregon and Washington.