Lawmakers propose bill to ban trade in shark fins to save declining populations

State legislators and marine environmentalists held a news conference at San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences Feb. 14 to announce legislation that would ban the sale, distribution and possession of shark fins in California.

The proposed law, co—sponsored by Assemblymen Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), aims to curb a rapid decline in worldwide shark populations blamed on indiscriminate hunting, mainly for their fins, according to a statement released by Fong.

Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in many Asian American cultures, and opponents of the move to criminalize the fin trade — including state Sen. Leland Yee (D—San Francisco) — called it an assault on Asian American culture.

Yee did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but he said in a statement that the bill “is the wrong approach and an unfair attack on Asian culture and cuisine.”

Fong, who was born in China, was quick to dismiss the cultural argument. He said the legislation is motivated by the practice of “shark finning,” in which sharks of any species are caught, their marketable fins cut off, and the less — valued remains of the still — living fish are discarded.

“This is not an attack on the culture; this is an attack on the practice,” Fong said.

A spokesman for the Monterey Bay Aquarium — one of numerous oceanic environmental organizations that support the bill — said that overfishing of sharks to supply the market for their fins is the primary cause of their depopulation.

“It’s pretty indiscriminate,” spokesman Ken Peterson said. “The idea is to take the market out of fins altogether, giving shark populations a chance to recover.”

According to a statement released by Fong’s office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in 2005 that two of the top entry points for shark fins in the U.S. are San Diego and Los Angeles.

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