Shark conservation has taken a step forward right in my backyard. On Monday, the California assembly passed AB376 which prohibits the sale, distribution, and possession of shark fins. This is essentially the same legislation that was passed in Hawaii and Washington state and is making similar progress in Oregon.
Introduced by Assemblymembers Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), the legislation was passed by a wide margin (62 to 8) and will now move on to the state Senate. If it succeeds in the Senate, it will most certainly by signed into law by Governor Brown, becoming effective on January 1, 2013.
But the measure did not progress without opposition. At the outset, opposing groups raised issues of cultural and ethnic prejudice. Since the vast majority of shark fin products are used in Asian markets for shark fin soup, the race card was heavily played by those representing either Asian constituencies or economic interests. However, opposition based on trumped up charges of racial discrimination did not dissuade Assemblymember Fong.
"I knew when I accepted the responsibility (of authoring this bill) - I weighed the cultural implications versus the environmental concerns, and the environmental issues outweighed the cultural," Assemblymember Fong said.
I had the pleasure of screening my documentary, Island of the Great White Shark, at the state Capitol two years ago at the invitation of Assemblymembers Jared Huffman and Nathan Fletcher as a fledgling precursor to the legislative achievement that has now been achieved. Assemblymember Huffman recognized the cultural shift that was being asked of the Asian community, where expensive shark fin soup is highly prized for special events and is often considered a sign of wealth or status. But he too felt that the environmental benefits outweighed the cultural ones.
“We have a role in helping our seas recover their balance - a role shared by our friends in Washington State, whose Governor signed a similar ban into law two weeks ago, and Oregon, which is considering a ban in its Legislature as we speak. Sharks belong at the top of the marine food web, and we can help restore them by passing AB 376,” said Assemblymember Huffman.
With passage of legislation in Hawaii, California, Washington, and Oregon, a major avenue in the eastern Pacific for shark fin distribution would be closed.
“Just as we banned the cultural tradition of foot binding, the tradition of eating shark fin soup served to show one’s affluence needs to end as well,” said Assemblymember Fong. “I am honored that the California State Assembly recognized what 76 percent of Californians and 70 percent of Chinese American voters in California have already recognized – that sharks are critical to the ocean’s health. Furthermore, our state and federal laws against finning are toothless in international waters – that’s why these efforts to stop the importation and demand here in California are so urgent.”
Supporters of the bill include The Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance, actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton, Master Chef Martin Yan, Chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences, The Humane Society of the United States, WildAid, SeaStewards, Oceana, Natural Resources Defense Council, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Pacific Environment, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Ocean Conservancy, Food Empowerment Project, and Heal the Bay.
However, while AB376 has now been passed by the state's lower house, the battle is far from over. Rest assured that opponents of the bill will double their efforts to prevent passage in the state Senate. So, if you are a California resident and you feel that preservation of one of the ocean's most vital predators is worthwhile, then please contact your local state Senator, urging them to support AB 376.
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Here is an interview by 8Asians.com with Assemblymember Fong discussing AB376: