Changing Planet

What the California Shark Fin Ban Means

Cartoon used with permission of the artist, Jim Toomey.

Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asian culture, often served at wedding ceremonies and ordered in restaurants as a symbol of status. As incomes rise, particularly in China, the demand for shark fins also rises and is contributing to a massive decline in shark numbers worldwide.

Most shark fins are obtained by the controversial practice of finning, in which fishermen slice the fins off live sharks and dump their bodies back into the ocean. A top ocean predator, sharks play a vital role in the delicate balance of underwater ecosystems. They are slow to reach reproductive maturity and birth small litters; which, when coupled with overfishing, means that populations worldwide are in steady decline.  Enric Sala, Explorer-in-Residence and marine ecologist, gets right to the point: “It’s time to stop this irrational slaughter that has disastrous ecological impacts.”

It seems that California agrees with Enric. California Assemblymen Paul Fong (D-Mountain View) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), with the support of conservation organizations, introduced Assembly Bill 376, which bans the possession, sale or trade of shark fins. AB 376 passed 25–9 with bipartisan support, and Gov. Jerry Brown has 12 days to sign or veto the bill which, without any action, would go into effect Jan. 1, 2012 (via Reuters). A complementary bill, AB 853, was also introduced to protect fishermen who legally catch sharks for personal use as well as for research purposes.

Chinese-Americans have certainly not welcomed Assembly Bill 376, and consider it discriminatory, as it does not impact the use of other shark parts or meat for consumption. Leland Yee (D-SF) is against the bill, stating that it “hurts hundreds of small Asian merchants and will create a black market for shark fins.”

“It’s a great day for sharks in California,” said Michael Sutton, vice president for Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Center for the Future of the Oceans, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “They may now actually survive another 450 million years.” (via WaPo).

Click here to learn more about finning. To find out how you can help to restore our ocean, click here.

Valerie Craig is the manager of National Geographic’s  Ocean Initiative.

Valerie Craig is Senior Director of National Geographic Society's Ocean Initiative. She was previously a Manager with National Geographic's Explorer Programs, working primarily on ocean and freshwater issues and overseeing the Lindblad-National Geographic Fund. Prior to joining NGS in May 2011, Valerie led TRAFFIC North America’s marine fisheries trade work, focusing on issues of legality and traceability in the seafood supply chain. Valerie earned a Master's of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and has a Bachelor’s in International Relations.
  • Eric Mills

    Support letters and calls are needed NOW.

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

    CALL THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE – 916/445-2841

    FAX THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE – 916/558-3160

    “Culture” and “tradition” should NEVER trump environmental protection or animal welfare.

  • Mary Hoover

    Great article. Finning is so brutal!

  • George Probst

    Great article. I think that one particular statement could use some clarifying, as it reads as somewhat of an over-generalization.

    “Chinese-Americans have certainly not welcomed Assembly Bill 376, and consider it discriminatory…”

    According to a May 6, 2011 press release from the Monterey Bay Aquarium a statewide survey found that 70% of Chinese-Americans supported AB 376.

  • […] Read more at the source: David Braun, National Geographic […]

  • […] that's exactly what's beginning to happen. Last week the California state senate passed legislation that bans the possession, trade or sale of shark fins, sending the bill to Governor Jerry Brown's […]

  • […] that’s exactly what’s beginning to happen. Last week the California state senate passed legislation that bans the possession, trade or sale of shark fins, […]

  • […] what’s beginning to happen. Last week the California state senate passed legislation that bans the possession, trade or sale of shark fins, sending the bill to Governor Jerry […]

  • […] exactly what’s beginning to happen. Last week the California state senate passed legislation that bans the possession, trade or sale of shark fins, sending the bill to Governor Jerry […]

  • Tim

    Oh cool, liberals banning more things. I also find it some what amusing that when others do this sort of thing it is quite obviously discriminatory but when liberals do it, it’s perfectly fine. After all, it’s for a cause that liberals support so how could it possibly be discriminatory.

    I’m not a religious person, but I find that liberals seem to be just as zealous about foisting their morality on the rest of us as anyone else is.

  • socalgirl

    I am of Chinese descent and I support the ban.

  • Shark fin ban supporter

    Tim, in no way is this a “liberal” cause. It is an environmentalists’ cause, a scientists’ cause, a human cause, a cause supported by anyone who understands that if a species is killed over and over and over again so that a small group of people on this Earth can enjoy a methyl-mercury filled, tasteless cup of soup to prove to the world that they have money — is wrong. It is a bipartisan cause that does not involve mainstream politics, but a simple understanding of nature and ecosystems. Refer to your 5th grade science class for more information.

  • Shark fin ban supporter

    Tim, in no way is this a “liberal” cause. It is an environmentalists’ cause, a scientists’ cause, a human cause, a cause supported by anyone who understands that if a species is killed over and over and over again so that a small group of people on this Earth can enjoy a methyl-mercury filled, tasteless cup of soup to prove to the world that they have money — is wrong. It is a bipartisan cause that does not involve mainstream politics, but a simple understanding of nature and ecosystems. Refer to your 5th grade science class for more information.

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