California legislature approves shark fin ban

SACRAMENTO Wed Sep 7, 2011 10:12am EDT

British performance artist Alice Newstead suspends from shark hooks pierced through her back at a cosmetic shop in San Francisco, California August 24, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

British performance artist Alice Newstead suspends from shark hooks pierced through her back at a cosmetic shop in San Francisco, California August 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - Shark fin soup would be off the menu in California, under a bill headed for the governor's desk following its approval by the state Senate on Tuesday.

The measure, which gained final passage on a bipartisan 25-9 vote, would ban the sale, purchase or possession in California of the ocean-going predator's fins, which are the chief ingredient in a soup dish that has long been part of Chinese culture.

The bill, approved by the state Assembly earlier this year, would take effect on January 1, 2013.

Bill supporters, including environmental groups, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and several celebrity Asian chefs, say the ban is needed to protect endangered shark populations from over-fishing. California, with its population of 1.1 million Chinese-Americans, is one of the biggest markets for shark fins outside Asia.

"(This bill) addresses an important environmental threat to our oceans' health," said state Senator Chris Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat who was one of the bill's chief proponents. "It's our market here that drives the slaughter."

But opponents noted that no species of shark is listed as endangered in the United States. They said the measure also unfairly singles out a favourite dish of many Chinese-Americans, for whom the pricey delicacy is a customary culinary accompaniment to weddings and other special occasions.

They argue that the bill was inconsistent because it bans shark fins while allowing shark steaks to be sold, as well as apparel and other merchandise made from shark skin, such as boots, bags and belts.

"This bill goes out of its way to be discriminatory," said Senator Ted Lieu, a Democrat who represents the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance.

The lucrative market for shark fin, which can sell for upward of $600 per pound, has increased the practice of "finning," in which fishermen saw off shark fins and leave the maimed ocean predator to bleed to death.

In January, President Barack Obama signed legislation tightening an 11-year-old ban on finning in federal waters.

Authored by Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Democrat born in China, California's proposed ban split the state Legislature's Asian delegation.

Governor Jerry Brown has taken no position on the bill.

The Democratic governor has 12 days from the time it reaches his desk to sign or veto the measure, which automatically becomes law if he fails to act. In that case, California would join Hawaii, Oregon, Washington state and the U.S. territory of Guam in banning shark fin sales.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (1)
ericmills wrote:
Now that AB 376 has passed the state legislature and is on the Governor’s desk, Jerry Brown needs to hear from us, urging him to sign this important bill into law.

WRITE: Governor Jerry Brown, c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814

FAX: 916/558-3160

CALL: 916/445-2841

Sep 07, 2011 1:01pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.