Back in February 2011, I blogged about the introduction of a California bill to ban the sale of shark fin soup in California. In March 2011, I had an exclusive interview with the author of that bill, Assembly Member Paul Fong. In September 2011, both the California State Senate and State Assembly had passed the bill, and in October 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill, AB 376, which became law.
The law now goes into effect today and calls for “… restaurants that sell shark fin soup, or markets that sell dried shark fins, will face fines of up to $1,000 per violation in California if they continue to offer them for sale.”
There are two organizations, Asian Americans for Political Advancement, and the San Francisco Chinatown Neighborhood Association, sued last year in federal court in San Francisco to block the law. They claimed it discriminates against Chinese-Americans because it prohibits cultural uses of shark fins. I think at least for the restaurants, they just don’t want to lose an expensive dish as a menu option.
Personally, I find this ridiculous.
For one thing, if we don’t curb the consumption of shark fin soup to begin with, we’ll eventually cause the decimation and possible extinction of sharks and then there will then also be no shark fin soup to consume. And just because something was past a cultural practice, doesn’t mean it should be continued (like the binding of women’s feet). As for discrimination, there were plenty of Americans of non-Chinese origin that could order shark fin soup as well. And food bans in California have not been confined to Chinese food, but other cuisines as well, including fois gras.
Additionally, there have been many high profile efforts within China to ban the sale and consumption of shark fin soup. In an op-ed in the New York Times today, some are outlined:
“To the Chinese, status is vital not just at meetings of the in-laws, of course, but also in business and diplomacy, and there have been signs of social change here as well. A campaign by WWF-Hong Kong has persuaded more than 150 corporations, including HSBC and Alibaba, to eliminate shark fin soup at their functions. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts stopped serving shark fin at its 116 properties, half of which are in China. Last summer, the Chinese government announced that it would stop serving the dish at official state banquets. The media have also jumped on the anti-shark-fin bandwagon: recent investigative reports by CCTV, China’s largest television network, reported that much of the shark fin served at top restaurants was fake and that actual shark fin was full of mercury and devoid of nutritional value.”
If such efforts are taking ground in China, the greatest consumer of shark fin soup in the world, it makes sense that similar efforts in China. Of course, bans in itself can only do so much. Making shark fin consumption culturally frown upon helps, and it is encouraging to see past efforts such as Yao Ming’s past high profile Public Service Announcement:
In the same op-ed, the author also notes:
“Guo Jingjing, a four-time Olympic diving champion and WildAid ambassador, declined to serve shark fin soup at her recent wedding. Her rationale? These days, killing sharks means losing face, not saving it. Jennifer Yang, a wedding planner for Beijing’s China World Hotel, says that some parents of brides-to-be still try to request shark fin, but the younger generation is balking. One bride, Amy Liu, even told Ms. Yang that the practice of slicing fins and dumping the animals back in the ocean made her lose her appetite.”
So I think a combination of laws banning shark fin soup as well as trying to change cultural norms (such as the reduction of smoking in the United States) will make a difference in reinvigorating the shark population in our oceans in the coming future.