I’ve never mentioned it here, but I’ve always had a thing for sharks. There’s just a certain something about them that I’ve always been attracted to. Their basic shape is so perfectly suited to their environment that its remained fairly constant for tens of millions of years. Their senses, behaviors, their massive variety, hell, even the fact that some of the few fish that have live births (as opposed to laying eggs) are sharks is just cool!
As you might gather, I find the practice of finning sharks for shark fin soup to be absolutely reprehensible. For those who don’t know or can’t be bothered to click the link, finning is the practice of “fishing” where sharks are caught and, while still alive, have their fins cut off and are then thrown overboard where the shark then suffocates and dies. This is only because shark meat isn’t nearly as valuable as the fins, so according to supply and demand, the limited space on board the fishing vessel is saved for the most valuable product.
While many countries regulate shark finning and have banned the practice of throwing the sharks overboard, these regulations are rarely, if ever, enforced. Most fishing vessels arrive in port with a far higher fin to carcass ratio than the laws allow, but no one cares. This may not seem that important, but last year, over 70 million sharks were killed for their fins.
Today (14 Feb., 2011), two California legislators have proposed a statewide ban on the sale of shark fins. Finning is already illegal in the US, as are imports of fins without the rest of the carcass. Despite that, shark fin soup is still readily available and there is a lucrative black market for fins. Banning the final product ends that and should have a major impact on the overall market.
However, CA state Senator Leland Yee has decided that this proposed law is an attack on Chinese culture and cuisine.
“I am very concerned with the plight of many shark species and the illegal shark fining trade. That is why I support the federal law that bans the practice of killing sharks only for their fins and I would support state legislation to strengthen it. I would also support legislation to create greater penalties for and enforcement of illegally killing sharks or selling any product from an endangered species.
However, the proposed state law to ban all shark fins from consumption – regardless of species or how they were fished or harvested – is the wrong approach and an unfair attack on Asian culture and cuisine. Some sharks are well-populated and many can and should be sustainably fished.
Unfortunately, this proposal is just the latest assault on Asian cultural cuisine. Last week, we had to fight a proposal at the California Fish and Game Commission that would have banned frog and turtle consumption. I had to pass legislation last year just to allow for the production of Asian rice noodles, and similar bills were needed to allow for Korean rice cakes. There have also been previous efforts to end live food markets, roasted duck, and several other cultural staples.
Rather than launch just another attack on Asian American culture, the proponents of the ban on shark fin soup should work with us to strengthen conservation efforts.”
— Statement from Yee’s office
To which I call bullshit. No one is calling on a ban of Chinese culture. No one is calling for the state to come in and close Chinese restaurants. The fact is that current conservation efforts have failed. 20 species of shark are on the Endangered Species list, tens of millions of top-level predators with a low reproductive rate are being removed from the ecosystem every year and the sale of fin soup is booming.
This isn’t about anything other than preventing the extinction of amazing animals that have been on this plant since before the dinosaurs. No species can withstand the immense pressure that overfishing places on it. We are causing this, so its up to us to stop before its too late. The fact that Leland Yee would immediately turn this straightforward conservation law into a racist attack by the government on a vulnerable minority says a lot about him.
* It should be noted that the bill was proposed by Assemblymen Paul Fong, who is of Chinese decent, and Jared Huffman, a native of Macau.
Yee’s opposition to a shark fin soup ban has nothing to with Chinese culture, nor with defending people against racism. It has everything to do with the businesses who give him money worried that they’re going to lose a profitable item. That is the kind of politician that Leland Yee is. He doesn’t give a shit about the environment, he’s in the pocket of monied special interests and is willing to disguise that by using ugly race politics.
** It should also be noted that Yee was behind California’s unconstitutional video game ban that was similar to bans that other states had enacted and which were all later struck down by the courts. Yee’s bill, when it was struck down, cost the state $324,000 in legal fees to the ESRB, in addition to its own costs.