California's ban on shark fins take effect

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 4:17am


An ancient Asian dining tradition comes to an end in California today, and grocer Emily Gian is none too happy.

Gian slashed prices on shark fins, the astoundingly expensive ingredient of a coveted and ceremonial soup, in the hope she would sell out before a California ban on sale or possession of the delicacy takes effect.

"The law is unfair," said Gian, whose store in Los Angeles' Chinatown sells shark fins for about US$1,300 a kilogram. "Why single out Chinese people in California when shark fins are legal in many other states?"

An estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that the populations of some species, such as hammerheads, have fallen by as much as 90 per cent in recent years.

"This is an important milestone in the global campaign to end shark finning," said Aimee David, director of conservation policy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "California's example has inspired several states to act, and we hope many others will follow suit."

So far, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland and Delaware, and the Pacific territories Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, have also enacted legislation prohibiting the sale of shark fins.

New York is pursuing similar legislation.Even the Chinese government plans to phase out fins from official functions within three years.

Despite protests from some Chinese-American leaders, Californian Governor Jerry Brown outlawed the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins 18 months ago. Stores were allowed to sell existing stocks until today. Violators face penalties of up to six months in prison and fines up to US$1,000.

In January, a legal challenge in federal court by San Francisco merchants who claimed that the ban is unconstitutional and discriminatory toward Chinese culture was resolved in favour of the ban. The court found that the law was within the state's authority, based on findings that the decline of sharks is a threat to the marine ecosystem and that the ban would help eliminate the demand for shark fins.

Since then, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and supporters of the ban - including the Humane Society and the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance - have been reaching out to Chinese American communities across the state, reminding them about the new law and its consequences.

As for Gian, she still had a lot of fins to move.

"Maybe we'll reduce the prices even more, or eat them ourselves," she said.