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.
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?"