Late last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill banning the sale and possession of shark fins, thus insuring that California will play a central role in lowering the demand for sharks. Bill AB 376 has invoked praise from environmentalists and condemnation from Chinese-American communities which serve Shark Fin Soup at weddings and other cultural celebrations in a centuries-old tradition.
With Brown's signature, California becomes just the fourth state to ban shark fins (after Hawaii, Washington and Oregon) but California - the Wal-Mart of states with regards to size, economy and influence - has previously welcomed 85 percent of all U.S. dried shark fin imports so the ban is expected to have a major impact. Currently, it is estimated that 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins and with the skyrocketing Chinese economy, some say those numbers are more like 100-150 million.
"The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans. Researchers estimate that some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent, portending grave threats to our environment and commercial fishing. In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill."
--California Gov. Jerry Brown
Brown claims that he was already leaning toward signing the bill but also received a call from billionaire-environmentalist Richard Branson, urging him to sign it, and that clinched the deal. Co-authored by Assemblymen Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, the bill was accompanied by AB 853, which gives restaurants and fish shops until July 2013 to deplete their existing stock of shark fins.
The expensive delicacy (Shark Fin Soup costs around $100 per bowl), is traditionally served at weddings, banquets and business meetings in a show of wealth and respect for the guest....less so for the shark.
Opponents of the bill plan to file suit against the law, calling it "discriminatory."
"I think it's a case of discrimination against Chinese because it's only Chinese who eat fin soup. I'm very disappointed that the governor did not investigate the whole set of facts. We believe that cutting fins and throwing the other part of the shark back is entirely not true."
--Pius Lee, chairman of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association in San Francisco
Anyone else notice that one of the bill's co-authors is a Chinese-American? That might hurt their case, I'm thinking.
Meanwhile, environmental groups celebrated the bill's signing, saying it will put a major dent in a wasteful shark fin trade that drives overfishing and poaching. Worst of all? From everything I hear, Shark Fin Soup doesn't even taste very good....!
"Shark's fin, like bird's nest, sea cucumber, fish lip, bamboo pith and other great luxuries of the Chinese table, is prized less for its flavor, which is bland to the point of nonexistence, than for an ethereal, gelatinous texture, achieved through careful drying, precise trimming and a complex preparation method that involves several days. Good shark's fin requires exquisite attention to detail and often involves enormous quantities of chicken and special ham whose sole purpose is to perfume the dish."
The whole practice is a giant Environmental-Spiritual-Culinary Insult Sandwich. So, just for giggles, let's hear from one more Chinese-American on the issue:
“Sharks are one of our oceans’ top predators, keeping the entire ecosystem in check, but shark populations have declined dramatically over the last few decades as a result of human greed and lack of understanding."
--Christopher Chin, executive director of San Francisco-based Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research and Education
Congrats to sharks everywhere and the people who love them, especially my godson, Jack Sargent, who can never get enough.
BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Section Editor, LIFE & GREEN; Proprietor, ClizBiz
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