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Proposal to ban shark fins in California heats up

SF Public Press
 — Feb 14 2011 - 6:54pm

A proposed ban on the sale, possession and distribution of shark fins in California has been introduced by Assemblymen Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael),  much to the dismay of some Chinese restaurant owners.

The ban would prevent fishermen and distributors from acquiring and distributing shark fins to restaurants who use the fins to make shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy, costing around $15 to $75 a serving.

“Current laws that ban the practice of shark finning are insufficient when we have species of sharks depleted up to 90 percent.” said Fong in a statement. Current state law states that a shark may not be hunted just for its fins and thrown back.

State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) blasted the legislation at a San Francisco press conference, saying the solution is “overreaching” and “insensive to the Chinese culture.”

In a telephone interview, Fong said Yee's remarks were offensive,  saying he practices the Chinese culture in his own home every day. “I'm not attacking the culture," Fong said. "I'm attacking the finning.”

He said the problem is increasing at an alarming pace.

“The demand for shark fin is growing and the worldwide shark population is depleting to extinction rates. I say it is time to remove shark fin from the menu,” he said.

Representatives of several Bay Area Chinese restaurants were at the press conference with Yee, a candidate for San Francisco mayor, to oppose the bill. They said their restaurants do not acquire shark fins illegally and that opponents should focus their attention on those fins caught illegally.

“This would be a huge jeopardy to Chinese restaurants,” said Michael Ou, chef at The Kitchen in Millbrae.

Ou said if the ban does take place, he would have reduce staff at his restaurant. “A lot of workers would affected not just in the restaurants, but also the fishermen as well,” said Ou.

Those backing the ban held their own press conference at the California Academy of Sciences, saying that when a shark loses its fin, it's similar to a human losing a limb and that the sharks bleed to death.

David McGuire, a researcher at the California Academy Sciences and director of the nonprofit Sea Stewards organization that promotes shark conservation, said that sharks play a very significant role in the ecosystem.

“They balance the fish population to make sure there's no overabundance of one species over another,” said McGuire. “They are they regulators of the food system.”

McGuire says he has been researching DNA of the sharks that were purchased in San Francisco and found many of the species were endangered.

“Often the vendor does not know what species they are or where they came from,” said McGuire.

Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, a nonprofit organization that campaigns to end illegal trade in wildlife, said education is the key putting a halt to shark finning.

WildAid aired ads in Beijing, featuring basketball star Yao Ming, to show the affects of killing the sharks just for their fins.

Knights said the ads received a positive response in China with 55 percent of those surveyed remembering the ad and 82 percent of those saying they would either stop or eat less shark fin soup.

“We plan to have billboards and public service announcements in San Francisco,” said Knights. “We have already reached out to over 100 restaurants in the city by sending them information on shark finning and some of the restaurants have actually stopped serving the dish,” he said.

At the end of Yee's press conference at the Far East Restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown, soup was dished out for reporters to see how how shark fin soup looks when served to patrons.


Typo: insensitive not “insensive to the Chinese culture.”

The Straits Times (2001) - Products sold in Singapore 'safe' - Shark's fin sold in Singapore is either not contaminated with mercury or contains such insignificant traces of the metal that it is unlikely to be harmful. This is the finding by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore, which has an ongoing programme to monitor fish products, including shark's fin, to check for contamination by mercury and other metals. The AVA head of public affairs, Mr Goh Shih Yong, said yesterday: 'The tests done on the shark's fin products have shown that mercury was either not detected or was at levels well below the permitted level of five parts per million.' The Straits Times contacted the AVA on this issue following reports that an investigation by global environmental group WildAid had revealed high levels of mercury in shark's fin samples taken from Thailand. These samples were imported mainly from Hong Kong. Mr Goh said Singapore gets shark's fin from more than 20 countries. Only 10 per cent of the total imported delicacy came from Hong Kong, while just 1.4 per cent came from Thailand. Last year, 1,170 tonnes of raw, processed and canned shark's fin, worth S$69 million, was imported, but only 203 tonnes were consumed locally. The rest were re-exported. Thai authorities have advised people to stay away from shark's fin until investigations are completed. Methyl mercury, which is the organic form of mercury, is toxic and can damage the nervous system and the kidneys, as well as cause birth defects. The toxic metal is found mainly in fish muscle, said Mr Goh. There is very little muscle in the shark's fin, which is the part used for making the soup. Mr Goh said: 'Moderate consumption of shark's fin should not pose a significant health hazard.' 

 That the ban would somehow "attack the Chinese culture" is an INSULT. You can't fish wildlife to EXTINCTION because of a culture, that's just complete nonsense. Leland Yee should be ashamed of himself. 

Long overdue, although having spent time in China there is little hope in the long term for any wild animals or natural resources. Recently, a turtle was found to be endangered and the price for the eat skyrocketed - yes, for eating.

"Many activists genuinely cannot understand why being offensive, and insulting other people, can actually be considered offensive and insulting."

The Shark Protectorate of San Diego hails this introduced legislation as critically important, timely, and humane. The argument that eating shark fin soup is a part of Chinese "culture" is particularly untrue. In ages past, ONLY ROYALTY were allowed/could afford to eat the soup (which was seen as a rare delicacy). Thus, unless present day Americans-of-Chinese-decent can trace their roots to royal or dynastic origins, the premise that SFS-eating is "traditional" is completely bogus.

Paul Fong is my hero! Leland Yee simply doesn't get it. (Or maybe he's just running for mayor.) Tip, Mr. Yee: This issue is NOT going to help your political career. I'm betting that the majority of your constituents, Asian-American or otherwise, are supportive of Assemblyman Fong's progressive legislation, Assembly Bill 376.

Letters of thanks to Assemblyman Fong are in order, as are letters of condemnation to Senator Yee. Not to mention to other state legislators, urging their support for this environmental bill. We're currently an estimated 100 million sharks worldwide in this obscene commerce. It has to stop before we lose all our sharks, which would be devastating for the fragile ocean environment. There's a growing movement in China itself to stop the trade.


Nor should it be forgotten that Senator Yee was the key player in the recent reversal of the frog/turtle ban in the live markets. The "race/culture" card was played, and the Fish & Game Commission caved. Last year the Commission voted 5:0 to instruct the Dept. of Fish & Game to cease issuing the import permits, and for good reason. All the market frogs (2 million annually) and turtles (300,000+, all taken from the wild) are diseased and parasitized, putting those who eat them at serious risk. Necropsies have documented E. coli, salmonella, pasturella (all potentially fatal in humans), plus giardia, blood parasites, even one case of malaria. Bon appetit! It is ILLEGAL to sell such products for human consumption, yet the commerce goes on unabated. Somebody needs to sue the Health Dept. over this. Is Senator concerned about THIS issue, I wonder?