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Alhambra Chinese restaurants fight shark fin ban

Chinese community leaders and restaurant owners gathered at Valley Boulevard's Gourmet Island on Friday to organize a response to a state ban on shark fin, which is considered a delicacy and often served in soup for special ocassions.

"If we let them ban shark fin, they will come after other Chinese delicacies," Derek Ma, the restaurant's owner and president of the National Chinese Welfare Council's Los Angeles branch said, according to the LA Times. "This is very unfair to the Chinese people. If we don't say something now, the fine cuisine of China will disappear."

“No shark fin, no Chinese food culture. This is not an exaggeration,” the president of the President of the Asian Food Trade Association, Xiaohua Zeng, said, according to China Press.

The bill, which Northern California Assemblymen Paul Fong and Jared Huffman, introduced earlier this year, would make it illegal to "possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin." The bill states that the "practice of shark finning, where a shark is caught, its fins cut off, and the carcass dumped back into the water, causes tens of millions of sharks to die each year. Sharks starve to death, may be slowly eaten by other fish, or drown because most sharks need to keep moving to force water through their gills for oxygen."

This is not the first attempt to ban shark fins. "It’s like clockwork," Bernice Yeung wrote in a February blog post in Hyphen, a magazine looking at Asian-American issues. "Every few years, the shark fin debate is revived anew, and by now, the narrative has become predictable: Chinese culture advocates who believe that they have the right to continue enjoying a centuries-old delicacy are pitted against conservationists who argue that shark fishing practices are cruel and environmentally unsustainable."

Indeed, several Chinese organizations including the Los Angeles Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) and Asian Food Trade Association are lobbying the state government in opposition to the sharp fin ban. The Chinese-language World Journal reports they are encouraging Chinese Americans to write to the state government and are offering help to those who do not speak English.

Warren Noronha | http://www.flickr.com/photos/wnorrix/The twist this time is that one of the state legislators backing the bill, Paul Fong, is himself Chinese-American. Fong "grew up eating the delicacy but has said that he turned against it after he found out that the fishing and trading of fins has helped wipe out shark populations and disrupt the fragile ecosystem," the LA Times reports. "He notes that fins are hacked off live sharks, which are thrown back into the water to drown."

While there are certainly problems with the harvesting of shark fins, Yeung argues the real problem is the way the press reports the issue. (She also notes in a postscript, "for the record, I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t much care for shark fin soup, although like Assemblyman Fong, I’ve grown up eating it.")

"For the most part, the reportage presents us with a troubling tale of how Chinese culture is at odds with conservationism — as if the two are somehow incompatible. But in the US, the meat and fish industry are also no stranger to unsustainable or inhumane methods of raising, housing, and slaughtering livestock or fish," Yeung writes. "So why does a delicacy primarily enjoyed by an immigrant community receive such intense legislative scrutiny?" 

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8 thoughts on “Alhambra Chinese restaurants fight shark fin ban”

  1. 8Asians is also following the bill to ban shark fin soup if you’re interested in one Asian perspective (I’m sure there are many). One of the 8Asian contributors interviewed Assemblymember Paul Fong, the primary sponsor of the bill.

    In addition, some prominent Chinese have spoken out against shark fin soup, including basketball player Yao Ming and businessman Jack Ma.

    Assemblymember Fong posted a video to his web site. I think it informative, if not a bit graphic.

    As of today, the bill is still floating around the Assembly. It has passed two committees and apparently the next step is for a vote by the full Assembly.

    I do not think the bill is as much an attack on Chinese culture as some people are saying. There are so many things that can and have been done that were true attacks on Chinese culture (e.g. Monterey Park trying to ban Chinese signs, English only ordinances, etc). The fact that the bill is sponsored by a Chinese-American and shark fin bans are supported by some Chinese from China demonstrates that reasonable minds within the Chinese community disagree about the value of the soup to Chinese culture.

    Moreover, I doubt it will affect the culture much because the shark fin soup sold in local restaurants contains so little shark fin, if any at all. Judging by the cost per pound/kilogram of shark fin soup, I doubt many bowls sold at restaurants in the area actually contain much shark fin without the restaurant taking a big loss. Also, I’ve eaten shark fin soup during banquets hosted at NBC, Harbor Village/Empress Harbor, and a few other local restaurants. I’ve never seen the density of strands in the picture above.

    On a more practical level, many other food harvesting practices have been banned or severely restricted on the federal, state, and local level in the past. For example, whale meat is banned by international treaty. In the recent past, California voters passed a referendum that prohibits some ways livestock is confined and a few years before that, we banned sale of horse meat and slaughter of horses for meat. Banning the sale of fins from wild sharks is part of that same continuum.

    Lastly, I doubt few businesses would risk selling shark fin soup in violation of a statute. Many restaurants in this area are family businesses built with blood sweat and tears. I have a hard time believing any will risk throwing it all away just to sell a few bowls of soup. The same goes with investor-backed restaurants. Investors are in it for the money and selling a few bowls of shark fin soup in violation of state law would seem too risky a gamble. More likely, other foods will replace shark fin soup in the banquet menu and to appease someone looking to spend a lot of money on their guests. In addition, the fact that wild sharks would be banned presents a business opportunity for an enterprising individual to figure a consistent way to farm sharks and supply a steady supply of ecosystem-safe shark fins for the local market. That’s what happened with abalone and a host of other seafood choices.

  2. The California bill to ban the possession and/or sale of shark fins passed the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife by a 13:0 vote. And last week it passed the Assembly Appropriations by a 10:1 vote. It’s gonna pass–get used to it. (A similar bill passed 95: and 47:0 in Washington State recently.) There’s a growing movement worldwide to ban this “dish of cruelty.”

    This is a bloody and unsustainable business. We’re currently massacreing an estimated 70-100 million sharks annually, and have reportedly already wiped out 90% of the world’s populations of sharks. And for what, pray? SOUP AND SUPERSTITION, God forgive us. (Some shark fin soup fans think it cures cancer, and is an aphrodisiac. WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS.)

    Not only is this business brutal, it’s horrendously expensive. I see fins in the Chinatown markets selling anywhere from $250-$600/lb. A bowl may cost anywhere from $35-$85, depending upon the species. Shark fin is mostly just gristle, chewy and tasteless. As one of my Asian friends said, “You might as well eat Jell-O.” And it’s also high in mercury, putting the public health at risk.


  3. Why would bowls of soup justify the cruel havesting of shark fins? Let us curb our tendencies to indulge and become more compassionate towards our fragile world including the oceans, of which we are custodians for the brief timespan we are given to spend on this earth.

  4. An unsustainable number of large fish (sharks, swordfish, etc.) have been removed from the ocean thanks to technological advances – oceanographers and others who study fisheries put it the numbers at 90% (!). If you want to eat shark fin soup in the future, something will need to be done to let populations recover, and the earlier you start, the more of it will be available sooner. Yes, there are a large number of unsustainable practices that need to be addressed in both agriculture and fisheries, but that is not a good argument for not starting to do something out of an appeal to “fairness” (the argument seems to be nothing should be “fixed” unless everything is “fixed” at once). So let’s get started on those other practices…

  5. Shark fin soup-eating has only been adopted by the rising chinese middle class within the last 35 years or so! (Before that it was strictly the domain of the extremely rich or royal-blooded.) How is that, then, part of the culture of MOST Chinese people? A RED HERRING if ever I’ve seen one.

    The restaurants think their cash cow (or shark in this instance) is going to disappear, but if NONE of the restaurants can serve shark fin soup (becuase of a ban) then the playing field is leveled and no one will suffer any financial harm. People will still have lavish wedding receptions and spend lots of money. Never fear.

    Sharks are slow to mature and slow to reproduce. If you toy with their numbers it’s much harder for them to bounce back. Too, shark “fisheries” (farming) has proved untenable.

    These creatures are being wiped out for a dish of soup. Do we really want to watch that happen?

  6. why does this sound so familiar… oh yeah prohibition. haha…

  7. “No shark fin, no Chinese food culture. This is not an exaggeration,” Yes sir, it is indeed an exaggeration! As far as I know, Shark fin soup is only served for the RICH in Chinese culture and it is not even a common Chinese dish in CHINA! The restaurant owners are obvious worried about the profit loss with the ban and come up with shark fin represents Chinese food culture non-sense. However, If there were a ban on soy sauce, I would pick up phone to call my congressman for the Chinese culture preservation. 😉