Will Shark Finning Be Banned in California?

Written by Becky Villaneda

When you think of a shark, you think of a predator, an intimidating and even frightening animal of the sea. But these fascinating creatures that have roamed the Earth’s waters for 420 million years are vulnerable to poachers that are depleting the animal’s population because of a practice called shark finning.

Fisherman catch the shark, slice their fins while they are still alive, then dump their bodies. The animal, which relies on their fins to swim, steer and for balance, either bleeds to death, is eaten by other animals or drowns at the bottom of the sea.

And for what? The main reason is for a traditional Chinese soup that celebrates the birth of a child or a marriage. A bowl of shark fin soup can cost up to $100, with a single fin being worth more than $1,300, according to KCRW, an Internet public radio station based in Los Angeles.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has concluded that a third of shark species are now threatened with extinction of some kind. To combat the threat, in January, President Barack Obama signed federal legislation that addressed loopholes in an earlier law to ban finning in U.S. waters. President Bill Clinton signed the original Shark Finning Prohibition Act in 2000. More specifically, the Shark Conservation Act bans U.S. fishing vessels anywhere, and foreign boats in U.S. waters, from possessing fins unless the rest of a shark’s carcass is also on board.

An estimated 26 million to 73 million are captured annually for their meat, skin and fins. However, there’s a catch, under the U.S. law, whole sharks can still be taken, but commercial fishermen must show the entire carcass to inspectors, according to FoodSafetyNews.com, and it is still legal to sell, possess or consume shark fins regardless of how they were harvested or where. To address these loopholes, California Assemblymembers Paul Fong and Jared Huffman drafted Assembly Bill 376, which passed in May.

Fong created the public service announcement below about the bill and his plight to save sharks. Warning, this video contains graphic video of sharks being mutilated before being dumped back into the ocean.

In the video, Fong addressed the importance of sharks in the ocean’s ecosystem.

“It’s like a house of cards. Once the top food predator goes, then the other fish in the ocean will be off balance,” he said.

And what’s even worse is that sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they are slow to reach reproductive maturity and produce very few offspring, he wrote in February prior to a press conference to introduce the bill.

According to a June 24 Los Angeles Times blog written by Patrick McGreevy, the measure is opposed by the Asian Food Trade Association, which says banning the fins without banning the rest of shark meat “unfairly targets the Chinese and Asian eating habits.”

AB 376 will move to a California State Senate vote Tuesday, June 28. It will be put to a vote in the State Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. It needs to pass the committee with a majority of votes in order to be brought to the Senate floor, according to SharkDefenders.com.

On June 24, 201, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, along with the Humane Society of the United States President Wayne Pacelle, the Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke and two others, wrote a letter addressed to California senators. Their request? A complete sales ban of shark fins in California.

According to the letter, a sales ban “is absolutely necessary if we are to conserve sharks and, in effect, our entire ocean ecosystem (which incidentally we depend upon for most of the world’s oxygen) for generations to come. Since California is now the largest source of demand for shark fin outside of Asia, we are in a unique position to lead the world in shark conservation with AB 376.”

According to reporting from Change.org, it seems as though senators Lois Wolk and Alex Padilla need some convincing. Both senators sit on California’s Natural Resources and Water Committee, which will be voting on AB 376 June 28.

If the legislation passes in committee, it will go on to a full vote in the Senate. If California approves the legislation, it will join Hawaii and Washington in banning the sale of shark fins,

Want to nudge Wolk and Padilla? Call the lawmakers at (916) 651-4005 and (916) 651-4020, respectively.

Cost of Soup:

Shark Conservation Act:

Assembly Bill 376 as written:

Assemblyman Paul Fong’s video about shark finning. Warning: graphic:

Bill in action:

Letter from Leonardo DiCaprio to California senators:

California senators on the fence:

About the author

Becky Villaneda

Becky is a Los Angeles-born writer educated in southern and northern California. She became a writer to raise awareness of social and environmental issues and because her mother’s passion for the written word was contagious. In early 2011, Becky and three other journalists teamed to write their first book “Stories4Women,” which is a collection of true short stories. This project has given her the courage to explore other book ideas … stay tuned. She recently moved to Santa Barbara and works at Hispanic Business Magazine and is happily exploring the city’s sights and sounds.