Brown bans possession, sale of shark fins in California

Story highlights

  • Fins can command up to $600 per pound
  • "Finning" is blamed for sharp declines in shark populations worldwide
  • Governor signs legislation banning the possession or sale of shark fins in California
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday banning the possession or sale of shark fins throughout the state.
"The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans," Brown said. "Researchers estimate that some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent, portending grave threats to our environment and commercial fishing. In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill."
Fins are considered a delicacy by many, but "finning" has led to declines in shark populations around the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Federal law prohibits the finning of sharks. In addition, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Guam and some countries have banned the practice. But it continues in international waters, which are not regulated.
One reason it continues is the fact that shark fins can command up to $600 per pound. Once its fins are lopped off, the shark is often dumped back into the sea, where it is either preyed upon or suffocates -- sharks need to swim continuously to breathe.
It is estimated that more than seven tons of shark fins were imported last year into California, said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, in a statement on his website. He and Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, authored California Assembly Bill 376.
Nearly all shark species are in decline; if they disappear, other ocean species will disappear and ocean ecosystems will collapse, according to Huffman.
Brown also signed a companion bill that allows existing stocks of shark fins to be sold until July 1, 2013.
California, home to 1.1 million Chinese-Americans, is one of the largest importers of shark fins outside Asia.
Supporters of the bill hailed the move as an important step toward protecting an increasingly rare species.
"Governor Brown's decisive action will end California's contribution to the fin trade that drives the killing of between 26--73 million sharks each year just for their fins," said Leila Monroe, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement posted on the group's website. "With sharks being killed by the tens of millions every year just for their fins, scientists, many Asian Pacific-American leaders and jurisdictions around the country and world agree: The very best way to protect sharks from disappearing from our oceans forever is to ban the sale and trade of shark fins."
Critics said the bill unfairly targets the Chinese-American community because it restricts the sale only of shark fins, which are used almost exclusively in Chinese cuisine. The bill does not apply to other shark products like oil or meat.