One of the Worst Meals You Can Possibly Eat Has Just Been Banned in California
It's a particularly choppy morning here in the Central Pacific, and everyone aboard Greenpeace's flagship, Esperanza, is on high alert. We are here to document, expose, and take action against illegal and unsustainable fishing practices, and only an hour ago, we encountered a Korean longline vessel, Oryong 335, that has refused to let us board their ship and is steaming away from us. It's too late for them to hide their secret, though: Even from half a mile off, one can see dozens of shark fins hung to dry in the tropical sun.
Out here in the high seas, it's only too obvious that the barbaric and wasteful practice of shark finning is alive and well. Current estimates on how many sharks are killed every year for their fins vary widely, but the average figure is somewhere around 50 million. Given this level of carnage, it's no wonder that many shark populations around the world are in severe decline. As I've written before, we need sharks in our oceans. Without sharks and other top-level carnivores to keep populations of sub-predators in check, we run the risk of losing productive and well-balanced marine ecosystems to trophic collapse.
While most of these shark fins are destined for markets in Hong Kong, Shanghai and other East Asian population centers, they are common in the US as well -- especially in high-end Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities with large Chinese populations. Thankfully, California has just banned the shark fin trade: a legislative coup that will have massive impacts on both our oceans and the finning industry overall.
California's AB 376 (aka the California shark fin ban), just signed on October 7 by Governor Brown, is more than just a law -- it's a revolution.
Unlike many other struggles against finning, AB 376 largely neutralizes the cultural defense.
A common rebuttal to AB 376 is that it is culturally imperialistic because banning the trade of shark fins discriminates against Chinese culture and tradition. While I personally believe that this argument is founded on false logic, it is often whipped out to quell grumblings about the shark fin trade. This time, however, the argument rings even more hollow than it has before: not only does California have the largest Chinese population of any US state, but the leading champion of the bill is himself a Chinese-American. Assemblymember Paul Fong, who represents California's 22nd District (that's the Mountain View/Cupertino area) started his crusade to save sharks after watching a grisly video showcasing the practice. Fong teamed up with Assemblymember Jared Huffman (who represents the 6th District, Marin and southern Sonoma counties) in an effort to put a stop to the fin trade in California. With support from key shark advocates like David McGuire, as well as from environmental and scientific organizations including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Shark Savers, and NRDC, Fong took the fight to Sacramento and won.
One may ask if this pro-shark coalition would have had as much success had it not been captained by someone of Chinese heritage. The pseudo-cultural argument flung back at those who would protect our oceans may have been significantly more powerful had the makeshift fin lobby been able play its race card without Fong trumping it.
Passing the State House and Senate Against Well-Funded Opposition
The passage of AB 376 marks the first time a shark fin ban has been enacted despite the organized resistance of an established bloc. Similar prohibitions are already in effect in Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Guam, and the Marianas, but the coalition that formed in opposition to the Californian shark fin ban was far more organized and well-funded than any that came before it.