California's state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would ban the sale of shark fins, a key ingredient in a Chinese delicacy that is widely blamed for decimating shark populations around the world.
The Senate voted 25 to 9 in favor of the bill, which now heads to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown hasn't indicated publicly whether he'll sign the bill into law.
(Update, 10/7: Brown signed the bill into law on Friday, Oct. 7. It will take effect in 2013.)
The measure has been championed by conservation groups such as Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which called Tuesday's vote a "huge victory" for sharks. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year to supply fins for shark fin soup, a status symbol in Chinese cuisine, and the fins are often cut off while the sharks are still alive. Many fishermen then simply dump the finless bodies back into the water.
Shark finning is already banned in the U.S., and many other countries have also moved to restrict the practice, including the Bahamas, Chile, Fiji, Honduras, the Maldives, Palau and Taiwan. Laws banning the sale of shark fins are on the books in Hawaii, Oregon and Washington.
But the issue is especially sensitive in California, which is home to 1.1 million Chinese-Americans and, as CNN reports, is "one of the largest importers of shark fins outside of Asia." Opponents of the California bill, some of whom are Chinese-American, have claimed it discriminates against their culture. Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, tells the San Francisco Chronicle the bill is "insidious" and "sends a very bad message ... that discrimination against Chinese-Americans is OK." Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, who also represents a district with a large Chinese-American community, calls the bill a "cultural affront."
Many famous Chinese-Americans support the ban, however, including lawmakers, chefs and celebrities. Yao Ming, the recently retired NBA star from Shanghai, recorded a PSA in 2009 with the conservation group WildAid urging people not to eat shark fin soup (see below). And California state Rep. Paul Fong, D-Sunnyvale, who grew up eating shark fin soup in China, tells the Los Angeles Times he turned against it several years ago after learning how the fin trade harms shark populations. He was a sponsor of the ban when it passed the state Assembly in May.
"I'm proud of my Chinese roots," Fong tells the Times, "and our culture will live and survive without shark's fin."
Here's the Yao Ming PSA: