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.

Changing Planet


Valerie Craig is Deputy to the Chief Scientist and Vice President of Operating Programs for National Geographic Society. She has strategic and operational oversight for the series of flagship programs and projects that are helping to achieve the Society's ambitious targets to deliver on the vision. She previously worked on ocean and freshwater issues for National Geographic's Impact Initiatives and Explorer Programs and oversaw 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.