Calif. Shark Finning Bill Creates Cultural Divide
Traditional Soup Versus Ocean Conservation
Monday, August 22, 2011
More than 20,000 people have joined a viral campaign on Change.org asking California lawmakers to approve a bill banning the sale, possession or trade of shark fins in the state.
More than 73 million sharks are killed every year through finning, where the sharks' fins are sliced off and the rest of the fish is tossed into the ocean to die.
But about 85 percent of U.S. shark-fin consumption happens in California. It has become a lucrative trade.
The fins are used to make a traditional Chinese soup.
Opponents claim the proposed legislation, AB 376, is an assault on Chinese-American culture.
To counter those views, the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance was formed to give voice to Asian-Pacific Americans who favor the ban in California.
"This is more important than a bowl of soup," said Judy Ki, co-chair of the Asian-Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance and a resident of San Diego County. "Cultural practices do change over time. Culture evolves and extinction is forever, it's a no-brainer if you look at the science."
Ki spent the previous week in Sacramento meeting with legislators on the issue.
"We're up against a powerful, very rich industry," said Ki, a retired science teacher. "The fin traders have hired two lobbying firms and they are continuing the theme that the legislation discriminates against Chinese culture."
She said the fight over the shark fin legislation has caused a generational rift among Chinese-Americans in California.
"Most of the younger Asian-Americans are in favor of the bill," said Ki. "Our biggest problem is really with an older group of San Francisco Chinatown fin traders, import/export business people."
Ki said she was recently surprised to learn California is also a hub for the trading of shark fins.
"We are participating in the trafficking of fins worldwide. I thought it was just coming into the state," she said.
California's Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on the bill by August 25.
State Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) is the chair of the Appropriations Committee.
Ki said Kehoe is a strong supporter of the bill.
If AB 376 is approved, it will move on to a vote in the full Senate.
"Do you want to guarantee a healthy ocean ecosystem for this generation and future generations or do you care more about a bowl of soup?" Ki said.