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Shark-fin ban becomes law in California: Do we care?

shark fin soup | www.flickr.com/mookiesThe waitress at the elegant Shanghai restaurant opened the lid of my bowl, releasing a sweet aroma. Through my fogged glasses I saw the semi-transparent shark fin gleaming in chicken broth. The fine food, a treat from my father’s work acquaintance, was the epitome of delicacy.

That was my first taste of shark-fin, three years ago in China where I lived for eight years. I probably won’t have it again for a while. Last weekend Governor Brown signed into law a bill that will make it unlawful to import, trade, and possess shark fin in California, the state where I now live.

The law, introduced by an Assemblyman of Chinese background, has divided Chinese-Americans about whether it’s our cultural heritage or an abusive, outdated practice of removing the fin from a shark. Politicians; restaurant owners, including many in the San Gabriel Valley; and advocacy organizations have all weighed in. But I and other students of Chinese background with whom I have talked have felt removed from this debate. Although shark-fin soup is a classic in Chinese gastronomy, it’s not a dish that had a large impact on many of us growing up. A symbol of wealth and social status, the extremely expensive delicacy is only served on very special occasions such as family feasts, business dinners, and weddings.

The argument for banning shark fins is that it is a brutal practice where generally the shark is definned and left to die. I’m not sure when I first learned this, but the practice was not an issue in China in my experience. For the Chinese community in the United States, however, I have found that there is a lot more awareness and concern about the practice. In recent months, among the most vocal proponents for the ban has been Senator Paul Fong, who introduced the bill. He explained to the Pasadena Star-News that “cultural practices change and the Chinese culture will survive with or without shark fins."

Los Angeles Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold, who has a reputation for eating most anything, also supports the ban. Gold recognized that “Chinese Americans are being asked to give up something real, with many years of tradition.” But he supported the ban and believed the threat of species extinction outweighed the costs, pointing out that shark fin soup “has already becoming passe, especially among young Chinese.” I could not agree more; none of my friends are a fan of shark fin soup. “I will not order it on my own, if ever,” several of them told me.

The author, lying down left, eats out with friends in ShanghaiThat said, for many of the young Chinese I know, even though they think eating shark fin is wrong, are skeptical of a statewide ban. “Individually choosing not to eat shark fin is one thing, but officially making a state wide ban is another,” Kelly Wang, who is a friend and also a student from Shanghai, told me. She felt the bill could be an intrusion to one’s freedom. So does my 90-year-old grandma in Taiwan. I too am suspicious about the necessity of having a legal ban, since California has already made many regulations addressing to the environmental and humane concerns of the practice.

Many politicians of Chinese background and restaurant owners have gone much further in opposition to the ban, saying that it would take away their cultural heritage and business. World Journal (世界日报) reported that several food unions, health foods interest groups, and Chinese restaurants gathered and protested against the bill. The head of the US Asian Food Union said she disagreed with the cruel killing of shark, but one should not execute a cultural delicacy because of the wrong doing of the minority.

"Why is it people on the Westside and in Beverly Hills can (continue to eat) shark steak and my people in the San Gabriel Valley can't enjoy a product five inches away from the shark?” Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park asked in a Pasadena Star-News article. He said the bill unfairly targeted a specific community by selectively banning one part of the animal while ignoring other types of shark consumption. Eng did not believe in the bill’s environmental aim either. He challenged it “did nothing to help the 27 species of sharks in California listed as endangered or vulnerable because it didn’t address the 20,000 or so sharks killed here each year.”

But these vocal critics of the ban don’t reflect the young Chinese people I know in Los Angeles. “Culture has to adapt with the current situation. And the current situation is that we are killing nature and depleting the nature,” my cousin Dangi Chu said. “It’s kind of human nature to adapt to things, so I feel like it’s silly to say it’s a cultural tradition and you have to hold on to it even though. It doesn’t make sense anymore.” Next time I’m at a fancy dinner with my father, I will try and resist the delicacy, something I never would have considered doing before my time here.

The Alhambra Source encourages comment on our stories. However, we do not vet comments for accuracy or endorse links to posts in the comment section. The thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author of the comment.

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21 thoughts on “Shark-fin ban becomes law in California: Do we care?”

  1. In a perfect world we would see the same supporters of the ban gets their legs or arms bitten off by sharks. I wonder if sharks would then come together and say humans are not to be chewed or chewed in parts. Interesting concept right? Maybe coffee should be banned and cocaine legalized???

    1. Contrary to popular belief, i.e. of viewers of JAWS and its inaccurate (albeit awesomely entertaining) sequels, sharks don’t have a taste for human meat–so the endeavor to demonstrate the ban’s silliness by proposing even sillier concepts is just… silly. To counter with an equally silly notion, how about this? What if you go surfing and try NOT to look like a seal? (No, I did not want to expend the effort to consult a thesaurus for “silly”.)

      What I struggle with is the fact that this ban isn’t even about extinguishing cultural delicacies or targeting certain people. It is as plain as: finning has been identified as a major cause of shark population declines, and this ban is meant to address this one contribution to a global problem. It’s difficult to extract cultural/economic/personal beliefs from issues such as this one; but I find it preposterous that people find a way to make something that was meant to be for the greater good, or maintaining marine biodiversity, into something so “personal”. Insert *scoff. And for those restaurants who boast their abilities to serve delectable cuisines, shame on you for not having more faith in your other culinary dishes–if all you’ve got to offer is shark-fin soup, you’ve got bigger problems, brother.

  2. Just wanted to respond to South End’s comments:

    Right..like we took away the land and lives of the Native Americans who were here first!

    Where did you go to school? Was History a subject you took? Your comments are really rude.

    By the way..really look at the politicians who are making the laws….they are mostly non-white…

    Sorry BABY, but look around, America is changing, so get use to it!

    1. Some of us are Native American AND European.


      2. No, only not happy with some shortsighted people who live here.
        I am a long-time homeowner. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

    2. Changing for the worse.

      1. and what are you doing to change it for the better beside your comments?

      2. Gathering people who care about our community. You will hear us at the upcoming council meetings.

  3. The writer did a very nice job on this article.

    From my research on the topic, most shark fisherman use the whole shark – more money made. There are some fisherman that do indeed slice the fin and allow the rest of the shark to die – they cant afford to slaughter the full animal. While its inhumane to slice the fin only, just think about how the shark treats its “food”. Gore!

    California made a mistake with this ban.

    Why not ban fins whose source can’t be verified? And, that can be done with a food law that punishes the seller. The health department already enforces the sources of many food products. One example is oysters – they all have to be tagged.

    If California keeps listening to the HSUS and PETA – which promote vegan only diets – we will continued to be legislated on food choices, thus limiting our freedoms, and fattening our Government. Someone has to enforce all these laws.

    This issue really has nothing to do with “tradition”. It has to do with groups of people wherein:
    some dont want meat eaten
    some dont want sharks de-finned only and left to die
    some who are ill informed
    some who love to put their name on anything that promotes themself/their group – its true! legislators get to say: I introduced blah blah bills for food safety, for protecting the environment – yadda yadda!

    It does not matter whether or not someone will order a product/food when it comes to outlawing something. Today we lose shark fin, tomorrow it may be something like soda or cookies, or chips, or the little toy that comes with the happy meal, or the extra salt – its a bad precedent for this freedom loving country to do things like this. Personally, I dont eat any of the above mentioned item, but I would NEVER vote against them. Boo Jerry Brown!! Boo!

    Thanks for the piece.

  4. Alhambra Resident

    So is “possessing” shark fin now illegal? Seriously? Even possessing marijuana won’t land you in jail (assuming certain restrictions of course).

    This is another law that compounds our over-regulated and over-taxed state. Letting sharks die after cutting their fins may be morally wrong, but addressing this problem through MORE LAWS doesn’t seem like a good long-term strategy. Someone in Sacramento should do their job and see if any other laws or policies can be ENFORCED instead of targeting a speciifc act with more laws. Education and awareness also needs to be addressed. That’s the problem with this state. Bills are thrown around our state legislature as if they were candy.

    1. From the south end

      To Alhambra Resident —
      In a perfect world, doing the “moral” and right thing would not necessitate the need for police officers, arson investigators, detectives, judges, lawyers, theater ushers, bouncers, toll booth attendants, etc., (you catch my drift)…

      So, yes— we DO have to enact laws that curb this behavior and um, “tradition” because you cannot expect someone’s moral conscience to trump their greed.

      1. I disagree with your drift.

        We DO enact laws to curb certain behaviors, but we must be careful which behaviors are worth litigating and what laws must be implemented. I agree with Cathy, this ban is a huge mistake. You, south end, may feel this behavior is totally wrong, but please look carefully what precedent this law sets in for our society. As a matter of fact, even San Francisco has made the audacious move to ban toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals. Where do we stop, south end?

        I’m against killing animals needlessly, but is the consumption of shark fins bad? Perhaps the real problem is the method of obtaining these fins. If the population of sharks are in danger, then at what rate are they disappearing? Fishing restrictions are perhaps more plausible. But no…instead the left jumps into the bandwagon with animal-rights activists and we create more laws that have far reaching effects for everyone. Restricting specific acts through absolute terms gives no credibility to our society’s pluralistic cultural composition. We don’t need to accept all our differences, however with the plethora of cultural behaviors we have in our community, we must pick and choose only those elements that have the greatest and immediate impact. Of course such issues will be subjective, but approaching every controversial issue in a holistic-type manner (through statewide laws) not only forces us to depend on government for ALL the answers; we AS INDIVIDUALS become weaker in finding solutions to specific problems in specific segments of our society. We are truly becoming a nanny state where one more law has cluttered the realm of other laws (good and bad) that tell us what we can and can’t do. The real sad part is when we are inundated with so many laws, its hard to separate the good and bad ones. Everyhing becomes a grey blur and its this blur that we assume is the unifying authority that regulates even bad laws to justifiable credibility. Afterall, even bad laws go through the legislative process.

        You say that in a perfect world doing the “moral” and right thing wouldn’t necessitate the need for police, etc… Well, in this world, even if we are all not morally perfect, I feel LAWS ARE NOT ALWAYS PERFECT as well. And laws cannot be the panacea (cure-all) for every behavior that voting constituents feel are ill-conceived. This ban is a huge mistake that should have been approached with more feedback from restaurants and the shark fishing industry. EXISTING laws/policies should have been looked at where stakeholders can input their opinions. Such efforts can perhaps point to possible solutions, especially where enforcement or oversight can be improved (or implemented where current lax policies have been ignored). Instead, politicians (who hate to admit their mistakes) take the easy route and do nothing more than throw in patch-work fixes.

        To be honest, bans are sometimes necessary and not all are bad. But with this issue, I feel Jerry Brown jumped the gun on this one.

      2. You are too verbose for words, John.

      3. Every ying needs its yang, especially when you look at some of the short-thought comments posted here, including yours…

      4. All you are doing is using circular reasoning to answer your own questions.
        You should become a lobbyist for big business.

      5. Its probably circular reasoning to you because all you do is throw snippet comments from the outside without really engaging in the discussion.

        I don’t need to be a lobbyist, thank you. And I’m not all for big business or big government. Through my experiences, a fluid balance works the best.

      6. My “snippet comments” are short and to the point.
        Why argue with a self-interested, profit-seeking person such as yourself.

        You want to bring a Walmart (a store that pays poverty wages to it’s employees and sells products mostly made in China) to Alhambra?! Why do you think Burbank residents are fighting to keep Walmart out? Wal-Mart displaces small businesses every time they open stores.

        Good luck with that.

      7. Short and to the point doesn’t mean your getting your point across. Unless of course, I could read your mind.

        Why don’t you expand your thoughts a bit more. I won’t bite if you don’t. And if you don’t want to, then fine that’s your prerogative.

        I don’t really care for a Wal-Mart in Alhambra unless its part of a multi-unit commercial project. The one in Rosemead (next to Panda HQ) on Walnut Grove Ave. is close enough. But having one here would actually let me reduce my drive time and not clog up Valley Blvd. Traffic there can be bad.

        You are right, big businesses can displace small businesses. I was once a partner in a small business. Let’s hope Alhambra can provide better support for small businesses.

  5. Here are my views on this in a nutshell:

    1). This is NOT a Chinese “tradition” —it is simply a matter of status and prestige among those too shallow (or too greedy) to put anyone or anything above themselves.

    2). Once in America baby, you’ve become an American that NEEDS to abide by laws we put forth by a majority. I hate to sound nationalistic, but if you don’t like it here…you can always go back to where you came from. We do not change or base our laws on other country’s “traditions.”

    1. Don't insult my culture.