Michael Sutton, Vice President of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, came to the Academy yesterday with legislators, scientists, conservationists, chefs and Asian-American community organizers to talk about sharks. He outlined the issues:
Sharks play an important role in the ocean eco-system; sharks are in serious trouble worldwide; and California is the largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia—thousands of pounds of shark fins are imported into the state each year.
Federal law prohibits the act of shark finning in the United States, but the purchase, sale, trade and possession of fins is not illegal. If you haven’t seen video of the practice, it’s very disturbing. Sharks are caught, their fins and tails are removed and the shark is thrown back into the water to die a probable slow and agonizing death. (KQED Quest has some footage of finning in their Great White Shark story, if you think you can stomach it—it’s about six and a half minutes into the piece.)
Shark fins go into shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy that is a symbol of affluence. And while the recent economic success in China has been great in bringing so many people out of poverty, it also means that the worldwide demand for shark fin soup has increased.
Shark fins and the soup can also be found in restaurants and shops across California.
The press conference held at the Academy was to support legislation in California to prohibit the purchase, sale, trading and possession of fins within the state. AB 376 is co-authored by Paul Fong and Jared Huffman, who both spoke at the event. California is seen around the world as an environmental leader, so this legislation hopes to reach beyond our state. If demand goes down worldwide, hopefully, large-scale shark finning will also decrease.
Peter Knights of WildAid gave us a very grave perspective:
Sharks have been on the planet for 400 million years… and we could lose them within a lifetime.
Most impressive were the words of the Chinese and Asian-American community leaders, many of who grew up eating shark fin soup, and now stand against its consumption. James Lau and Judy Ki of the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance were passionate in their support of AB 376. Lau reported that Californian Asian Americans are staunch environmentalists—a recent poll showed that 74% find environmental issues extremely important, higher than any other demographic in the state.
To support this legislation, write your assemblymember. You can find yours here.