Lawsuit Fights for Right to Mutilate Sharks to Make Fin Soup

Monday, July 23, 2012

When California passed a law last year banning possession and sale of shark fins, it joined a worldwide movement against the mutilation of sharks for their fins and decimation of shark populations in general.

But the San Francisco Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Asian Americans for Political Advancement considered it a discriminatory unconstitutional assault on people who find shark fin soup a delicacy and a centerpiece of cultural traditions stretching back to the Ming Dynasty. Last week, the groups sued in federal court to have the law overturned.

Supporters of the ban abhor the practice of fishermen who catch sharks, cut off their fins and then throw them back in the ocean because demand for shark meat isn’t high. Tens of millions of sharks die a slow death annually from “finning.”  Conservationists also cite studies that estimate “55% of sharks that have enough data available to assess them (150 species) are threatened or near threatened with extinction.”

Plaintiff attorney Joseph Breall said the law is “anti-Chinese” because, “It will have no effect on anyone other than the Chinese community and the fishermen that now have to dispose of fins and are creating their own environmental impact.”

Breall’s clients also claim the law interferes with interstate commerce and preempts federal law, which only prohibits “finning” in U.S. waters.

China announced two weeks ago that it will begin prohibiting official banquets from serving shark fin soup. The soup is relatively tasteless and slithery but has long been an expensive must-have status symbol dish at corporate gatherings, state events, weddings  and other celebrations.

Fins which were in California as of January 1, when the law took effect, can be used until next July.   

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Chinese-Americans Challenge Shark Fin Ban (by William Dotinga, Courthouse News)

Hong Kong Imported 10 Million Kilograms of Shark Fins Last Year (by John R. Platt, Scientific American)

Sharks on a Collision Course (The PEW Charitable Trusts)

Chinese Group Sues over Shark Fin Ban (by Marisa Lagos, San Francisco Chronicle)

China Says No More Shark Fin Soup at State Banquets (by Bettina Wassener, New York Times)

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