The end of shark fin soup in California is coming. Both houses of the state’s legislature have passed Assembly Bill 376, banning the sale and trade of shark fins. The bill is now on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk and he has until Sept. 18 to sign or veto the bill. If he signs or does nothing, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. Should that happen, then one of the largest markets for shark fins outside of Asia will be shut down and one of the main gateways for shark fin distribution in the United States will be closed.
After heated discussions, the bill passed on Sept. 6 with overwhelming bi-partisan approval. Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon have all banned the trade in shark fins, as have Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
“Nowhere else has this matter seen such resistance, but it’s been an arduous battle here. We’re thrilled that the California Legislature has done the right thing, and seen past the grousing of special interests,” said Christopher Chin, Executive Director of the Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Inc. (COARE), a group which supported the bill, in a press release.
“I’m pleased that California can take part in the worldwide movement to protect these important creatures, and that we can continue to provide leadership in important environmental matters,” said California Assemblymember Paul Fong, the bill’s primary author. “We’re grateful for organizations like COARE, which have provided invaluable support throughout this process.”
California’s move is part of a growing international effort to save the ocean’s top predators. Every year, up to 73 million sharks are used for shark fin soup, according to COARE. The soup has traditionally been a delicacy in Chinese culture, popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac.
“We find that some Chinese and Chinese-Americans simply don’t understand the issues. If people knew more about these animals and their crucial role in the ocean, they would want to protect them”, said Christopher Chin, COARE’s Executive Director in a press release. Indeed many of today’s Y and Z generations are aware of the issues and choosing not to eat shark fin soup.
A survey by COARE found that many Chinese restaurants in San Francisco served the soup only because they believed customers expect to see it on their menus.
“This bill helps directly address those informational shortcomings, and provides a simple solution for those who requested, ‘make it illegal so we don’t have to sell it’,” said Chin.
California isn’t the only place taking legal action to save the sharks. Several nations, like Honduras and the Bahamas, have completely banned shark fishing. Others, like the U.S., have banned the practice of “finning” or slicing off only the fins of the shark and tossing the still-living, mutilated animal back into the ocean.
“Sharks are one of our oceans’ top predators, keeping the entire ecosystem in check, but many shark populations are now endangered as a result of human greed and lack of understanding,” said Chin.
Before humans started over-fishing them during the past century, sharks had little to worry about. Few predators meant that sharks could have few young and take their time to mature to breeding age.
“As a result, they are extremely sensitive to fishing pressures, and are slow to recover from overfishing,” said Chin.
“By increasing public awareness of the need for shark conservation, we endeavor to change the way people think about sharks, thereby reducing the sale, use, and trade of shark products,” said Chin.
A diver examines sharks that were finned and thrown overboard to drown in the Pacific Ocean near Cocos Island, a Costa Rican National Park. (Corbis)/p>
Traditional Chinese shark fin soup for sale from a street vendor at the night market in Vancouver’s Chinatown neighborhood.(Corbis)