SACRAMENTO — AB 376, a bill that would make it illegal to possess, sell, trade or distribute shark fins in California, has both supporters and critics among Asian American legislators and in the larger Asian American community.
The topic is a sensitive one because shark fin soup has long been considered a delicacy in the Chinese American community. Many businesses in that community also say that they would be harmed economically by such a ban.
The Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus has not taken a position because its members are split on the issue.
Assemblymember Paul Fong (D-Cupertino), who co-authored the bill, admits to having eaten shark fin soup, but he compares that tradition with foot-binding, which was once considered acceptable but is now banned. The anti-finning campaign got some high-powered help when basketball star Yao Ming appeared in a public service announcement.
Among the other elected officials supporting Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance (http://apaoha.org), whose slogan is “Save the shark, save the ocean,” are Assemblymembers Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach), Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward), Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) and Mariko Yamada (D-Davis); Betty Yee of the State Board of Equalization; San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting, both mayoral candidates.
The opposition includes State Sens. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who is also running for mayor, and Assemblymembers Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) and Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), who is speaker pro tempore.
AB 376 was passed by the Assembly and is now being considered by the Senate. Ma issued the following statement when she voted against the bill in May:
“Over 25 years ago I made a personal choice to give up eating meat. I would not consider a law that imposes my personal choice on the rest of California. Indeed, we don’t have any laws that ban foods in California.
“We have two federal and California agencies who monitor and seek to protect our endangered species through permits, regulations, quotas and enforcement. If sharks are threatened as a species, we should ban the killing of all sharks.
“I have been concerned about the abhorrent practice of shark finning since 1998 and I applauded President Clinton when he signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act in 2000, banning the practice in U.S. waters (which extend 200 nautical miles from the coastline), and required the entire shark (carcass and fin) be brought onto U.S. land.
“In January of this year, I was pleased that President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, which strengthened the federal law and closed some of the loopholes in the 2000 act.
“The National Marine Fisheries Service closely monitors the shark population and adjusts the annual quota for bringing in certain types of shark each year. This list can be found on their website (www.nmfs.NOAA.gov/sfa/hms/newslist).
“After too long, we can now say that the current law is working. Arrests are being made. In California, we have led the way in ocean wildlife management by creating fish sanctuaries, mitigating runoff into our waterways, and limiting fish catch through permits and quotas set by our California Fish and Game Commission. And we know that these policies are working as we are seeing a rebound in our marine ecosystem.
“So if this bill were to seek protection of the shark population, I would support it if it was consistent with our past practice in ocean wildlife management though tighter controls on fishing permits and/or higher penalties and fines on those who break the law …
“I googled ‘shark meat California restaurants.’ And yes, I found lots of restaurants serving shark steaks. And you don’t have to walk far on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills before you’ll find shark skin as an accessory item.
“And lastly, this is a sensitive cultural issue to many in the Chinese community. Shark fin soup is considered an honored traditional delicacy and is served at many of our sacred occasions, such as a birth of a child and the union of two people. To many in my community, this bill represents a direct attack on our culture and tradition.
“I want to reiterate that this bill would be the first bill to ban a California food product AND takes us down a dangerous road where we dictate what is and isn’t acceptable for cultures to consume …
“I’d like to recognize the author for taking on this real and controversial issue. I have been fairly silent to date, hoping this bill could come to a compromise that would accomplish the intent of the author and not ban a piece of the Chinese culture. Unfortunately we are not there, and thus I am voting NO today.”