Let's start with the good news: As of yesterday, July 1, California's shark fin ban (passed in 2011) officially came into effect! California grocers that stocked shark fins and restaurants that offered shark fin soup on the menu had 18 months to move their product. During the 18 month interim, the Los Angeles Times reports that one San Gabriel Valley restaurant specializing in the delicacy shut down, while several retailers in Chinatown bemoaned the large stock of shark fins still at hand.
Shark finning is a brutal practice: Fishermen haul live sharks onto boats where their fins are sliced off, and the sharks are then thrown back into the water, alive, to drown or bleed to death. Current reports estimate that over one hundred million sharks are killed every year, most only for their fins, which are often used in shark fin soup. Once an Asian delicacy reserved for the wealthy, now, with a growing middle class, shark fin soup has become common fare at weddings, banquets and business meetings. A bowl can cost up to 2,000 renminbi, or about $320, making the fins easily the most lucrative part of the shark. Shark fin has little to no taste, and merely contributes texture to shark fin soup.
As a recent New York Times article reports, however, the tide may finally be turning in Asian taste for shark fin soup. While previous generations revered the delicacy as a means to signal a family's prosperity and honor and impress wedding guests, many younger Asians today see shark finning as a disturbing and socially unacceptable practice. The New York Times writes,"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." Recent distaste for shark fin soup may be coming just in time, as unsustainable fishing methods like shark finning have caused the decline of some shark species by as much as 99 percent in recent decades.
In banning the sale, trade and possession of shark fins, California has joined six other states and two U.S. territories to protect sharks. Unfortunately, however these state laws are at risk, on the verge of being undermined by the U.S. government. Proposed regulations to implement the Shark Conservation Act (the law that closed loopholes and banned shark finning in U.S. waters) could conflict with these state and territorial laws. This proposed rule could reverse all the progress in reducing the demand for shark fins in the United States, actually increasing the number of shark fins that could be imported into the United States from countries that allow the disgusting practice! We cannot move shark conservation in the wrong direction. -- please sign our petition telling the National Marine Fisheries Service to remove language that threaten state shark fin trade bans. The comment period ends July 7th, so please stand up for sharks today! Thank you!