Less than a week after Chinese New Year, California legislators introduced a bill to ban the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins used in a traditional soup.
If successful, the proposed ban announced yesterday would follow a similar measure enacted in Hawaii last year. Oregon and Washington are also considering a similar move.
Shark fins are used to create a luxury Chinese soup that can sell for more than $80 a bowl.
Supporters of the ban say shark finning is a cruel practice in which fishermen slice the fin off while the animal is still alive and then throw the shark back in the sea to die.
Assemblyman Paul Fong, who introduced the legislation with colleague Jared Huffman, said he was born in Macau and grew up eating the soup but stopped doing so when he learned about the practice of finning. More than 70 million sharks were killed last year, many for their fins, Fong said.
"It’s like removing the tusks from elephants and paws from tigers," he said. "The sharks are at the top of the food chain, and they maintain the balance in the ecosystem. If sharks fall like a house of cards, the rest of the ocean will fall."
At Wing Hop Fung, a specialty market in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, dried triangular fins were selling for $299 to $699 a pound.
Around the corner at Ocean Seafood Restaurant, manager Linda Chao said the younger generation prefers fish, abalone and lobster, but shark fin soup is kept on the menu just in case.
"This is a Chinese tradition," she said.
Vicky Ching, owner of Ming’s restaurant in Palo Alto, said she would be happy to stop serving the dish if it were banned but for now must keep serving the soup to keep her banquet business going.
Other Chinese restaurant owners in Los Angeles and San Francisco, however, oppose the move. About 10 owners gathered yesterday with state Sen. Leland Yee, who is running for San Francisco mayor. He called the ban overreaching.