Shark Fin Ban in California Goes into Effect on July 1, Makes Traditional Chinese Soup a Crime

| by Phyllis M Daugherty
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California’s long-awaited law to prohibit the sale, possession, trade or distribution of shark fins went into full effect on Monday. The law also means the end in this state to the traditional Chinese delicacy, shark fin soup, which is claimed to increase appetite and have various health benefits and also believed by some to be an aphrodisiac. Shark fin soup sells for up to $100 a bowl.

Beginning Monday, anyone caught violating the law could face a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Shark fin soup is made from a variety of shark fins, gathered by a brutal process called “shark finning.” Shark finning claims between 26 million and 73 million sharks annually, according to Science News.

The shark meat itself has little value, but the fins are extremely pricey and go for $300 per pound, reports NBC News.

A report on the brutal practice of shark finning last year was done by Animal Planet, showing how a shark is caught, pulled onboard a boat, its fins are cut off and the still-living creature is tossed back overboard to drown or bleed to death.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the controversial legislation banning shark fins in California into law in October 2011. However, a compromise provision included in the bill allowed storeowners and restaurateurs to continue selling their existing supply of shark fins until July 1 in order to exhaust any supply on hand or to relocate their business.

The law sparked a fierce debate between environmentalists and animal protectionists — who claim that shark finning has already reduced shark population to a critical level and cite the need to preserve the ecosystem — and some Chinese-Americans who want to continue to honor the Chinese cultural tradition of serving the gelatinous, yellow shark fin soup during weddings, banquets and other ceremonies.

Time Magazine called it "extinction in a bowl.”

An unsuccessful 2012 court challenge claimed the law discriminates against Asian-Americans.

"It only uses people's good hearts to penalize the Chinese from utilizing fins of legal harvest sharks," said Taylor Chow, a member of Asian Americans for Political Advancement, one of the organizations that challenged the ban in court.

“Most of my customers are American so there isn’t a demand for shark fin soup," said Harry Kwok, manager of Hop Li Seafood Restaurant in Los Angeles to NBC News.

Meanwhile, several members of Congress are expressing concern over a proposed federal regulation that might preempt the California's shark-fin ban  as well as similar laws in other states. California's law, nonetheless, went forward on Monday.

According to Pacific Daily News, the importance of sharks in our ocean's ecosystem should be a vital concern to us all, and it states "sharks are not only natural predators, they are critical partners, cleaning and balancing agents in our surrounding waters."

California joins Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland and Delaware as states that have passed bills banning the sale of shark fins.

Sources: NBC Los Angeles, Stop Shark Finning, Discovery