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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Shark Fin FAQ: So What's This Ban All About?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 3:43 PM

click to enlarge shark_week_logo.jpg

Yesterday, SFoodie broke the news that the California state senate had passed AB 376, a statewide ban on the sale and import of shark fins. Since the bill had already passed through the Assembly last spring, it now goes to the governor's office.

So what's this bill all about?

Dried shark fin is a luxury ingredient in several Asian cuisines; unlike caviar or truffles, it is prized for its exquisite texture rather than its flavor. Rising global demand for shark's fin has resulted in the practice of shark finning, or sharks being captured for their fins, which are sliced off, leaving the shark to be thrown back in the water to die; the practice, many environmental groups say, is leading to the collapse of many shark populations.

The U.S. government recently passed a ban on shark finning in U.S. waters, but you can still import shark's fin from other countries that don't have that ban. This proposed law would stop demand, not just supply.

Would this be happening if shark fin were a Western delicacy?

Well, that's a matter of some debate, isn't it? The Chinese American community has been split on this issue since the ban was introduced -- Assemblyman Paul Fong sponsored the bill, while Senator Leland Yee was its staunchest opponent. Restaurants like Koi Palace have posted signs arguing that the ban is an attack on Chinese cuisine; at the same time, organizations like the Asian Pacific Ocean Harmony Alliance have formed to support AB 376.

SFoodie tends to think the widespread support for the ban may owe some of its strength to xenophobia, but more to populist distaste for luxury ingredients; after all, beluga caviar is currently verboten, and California's foie gras ban is set to take effect in July of next year.

If the governor signs AB 376 into law, when would it take effect?

The ban on importing shark fin would go into effect January 1, 2012.

However, an amendment to AB 376 is making its way through the assembly

now to allow businesses with shark fins in stock one extra year to sell

their remaining product.

What about sharks fished for their meat?

Unfortunately, while all sharks caught in U.S. waters must be brought to the deck with their fins intact, those fins would not be legal for sale in California (as well as Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, states that have already passed similar laws).

Another amendment making its way through the assembly would let sport fishermen keep the fin to eat or send to the taxidermist. Senators Ted Lieu and Leland Yee (San Francisco's senator) both attempted to get an amendment added to AB 376 that would allow fishermen who caught whole sharks to sell the fins, but the change never made it into the final bill. As a result, both senators voted against AB 376.

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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