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October 07, 2011

California Bans Shark Fin

by Elizabeth Lee

People in California can no longer eat the Chinese delicacy of shark fin soup.  The Governor of California officially made it illegal to sell or possess shark fin.  The ban is a part of a growing movement worldwide to save the shark population.  But there are some Chinese who feel California's ban on shark fin is unfair and discriminatory.

Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Chinese cooking that dates back hundreds of years.  The expensive dish has become increasingly popular as more Chinese are getting wealthy. But conservationists, like Sarah Sikich of Heal the Bay, say the demand for shark fin is devastating the shark population.

"Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fin alone," noted Sikich.

Sikich says the practice of finning is popular among fishermen who would catch the shark, slice off the fin and throw the fish back into the ocean to die.  

Barbara Long at the Aquarium of the Pacific says when the shark population is put at risk, the health of the ocean is also in danger.

"Sharks are a top predator and play a very vital role in marine ecosystems," said Long.

Celebrities like Chinese basketball star Yao Ming and British tycoon Richard Branson are asking the Chinese to stop eating shark fin soup.  U.S. law requires all sharks that are brought on shore to have their fins attached. California now joins three other U.S. states for even stricter regulations that ban the sale of shark fin, a commodity that is worth as much as $700 a kilogram.

"Because the fin is driving the market value of the shark, it's most important to target that aspect, noted Sikich.  "California is the leading importer of shark fin to the U.S.  It's estimated that 85 percent of the shark fin that enters the U.S. comes through California."

But opponents of the California ban say the law unfairly targets the Chinese community because it only bans shark fin and not the entire shark.  California State Senator Ted Lieu voted against the ban.

"You can slaughter this highly vulnerable shark for fish and chips, but a Chinese restaurant couldn't take a shark fin from one of the hundreds of shark species are nowhere near endangered and to me that is completely discriminatory and very unfair," said Lieu.

Betty Tsang of the Asian Food Trade Association says California's shark fin ban is also wasteful.

"If the fisherman or the fishery industry get the shark in now they have to take out the shark fin and throw it away," said Tsang.  "They have to feed it to the dogs or throw it back into the sea. It is the reverse."

Many opponents of the shark fin ban say they would support a ban on the entire shark.  That's exactly what eight representatives ranging from Latin American countries to Micronesia have pledged. They signed a declaration at the United Nations to develop shark sanctuaries that would end the commercial fishing of sharks.