GRANTS PASS, Ore. >> A bill to add Oregon to the list of states banning the trade in shark fins used in a traditional Chinese soup is getting strong support as it moves through the Legislature.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee this week unanimously endorsed House Bill 2838 and sent it to the floor with a recommendation for passage.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, said Friday he wanted to make Oregon part of the global effort to end the "barbaric" practice of cutting the fins off large sharks and tossing them back into the ocean to starve or suffocate because they can no longer swim.
Environmentalists say tens of millions of sharks each year die around the world after their fins are cut off, primarily to feed strong demand for the soup in China. Conservation groups fear demand will get greater as the Chinese economy continues to prosper. Environmentalists warn that sharks are slow to reproduce, serve a key function as a top predator in ocean ecosystems, and their survival is threatened by the demand for their fins.
"This is a problem requiring international action," said Whit Sheard of Oceana. "This is an attempt by all West Coast states to help address a global issue."
Hawaii has already adopted a ban and Washington and California are considering them. Federal law requires sharks taken by fishermen be brought ashore with their fins on, but does not stop the sale of fins.
The bill prohibits the possession and distribution of shark fins, and carries a fine of $720 for violations. It makes an exception for spiny dogfish, a small shark that accounts for 300,000 pounds in landings by commercial fishermen each year. Sport fishermen with a valid license are not affected. About 150 sharks are caught each year off Oregon, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Curt Melcher, the agency’s deputy director, told the committee that enforcement by state police game officers would be based on complaints.
During a hearing on the bill, the Human Society’s Oregon director Scott Beckstead said only a handful of Chinese restaurants in the state serve shark fin soup.
The soup, which has a subtle flavor and gelatinous consistency, is served during Chinese dinners and banquets to convey affluence, similar to caviar. It sells for as much as $80 a bowl in restaurants. The fins sell for $299 to $699 a pound at a Chinese market in Los Angeles.
Witt acknowledged that the market in Oregon was small, adding that made it an ideal time for a ban.