California Bans Trade in Shark Fins

By Douglas Main | October 11, 2011 7:37 pm

Shark finsFresh shark fins drying on sidewalk in Hong Kong. Credit: cloneofsnake / flickr

On Friday, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill outlawing the trade in shark fins, making it illegal for them to be imported, possessed, or distributed in the state. Chinese chefs were angered by the decision, since the fins are the prime ingredient in shark fin soup, a prized and expensive delicacy (although most Chinese voters in California support the ban… and so does retired NBA player Yao Ming). Other parts of shark meat are not highly valued, though, so most sharks caught are “finned” and thrown back into the ocean, where they slowly bleed to death. As many as 73 million sharks are killed each year, most for this purpose, and shark populations around the world are in serious decline—perhaps 30 percent of shark species are endangered.

The importation of shark fins to the U.S. is against the law, but illegal importation continues and consumption remains popular amongst Chinese immigrates and other groups. The soup is available in at least 23 states, for example, and In New York City alone there are 54 restaurants serve shark-fin soup, according to the Animal Welfare Institute. The California bill is a victory for conservations, who estimate as much as 85% of the shark fins consumed in the U.S. are imported into California. The state becomes the fourth to ban the trade, after Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. Shark-finning nevertheless remains a major threat to the survival of sharks around the world, and shark fin soup is still a coveted dish in East Asia and elsewhere.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • Paul B

    Not that I disagree with the ban, but why does it matter what some retired NBA player thinks about shark fins? Does basketball training include oceanography courses or something?

  • Dayana

    Shark lovers should be aware of the law of unforeseen consequences.

    My uncle in California is an ocean enthusiast. He has huge tanks with all kinds of exotic sea creatures. He has two small sharks that he cares for and loves. Since possesion of a live shark obviously includes possession of fins, he is worried that he will be forced to kill and dispose of his two beloved sharks before the ban goes into effect.

    Like all big government nanny-state “solutions” this law will have the opposite effect, driving sharkers into a black market where they will have no incentive to preserve the species for future profits. A wiser programme would be to license sharkers and set limits, the same way we do with hunting.

  • Jon

    Your uncle should have no problem with this law as it has nothing to do with live sharks. The law makes the sale of shark fins, not sharks, illegal in the state of California. Furthermore, the law states that businesses and individuals can sell fins obtained before the ban. Since he has presumably had his sharks for longer than the ban has been in place he should be free and clear.

  • Eric Mills

    Now that the sharks have been given some well-deserved respite, it’s time to address the state’s many live animal food markets, where the problems are much the same: horrendous animal cruelty and unsustainable “harvest” (esp. of turtles), plus risks to public health.

    California annually imports two million American bullfrogs and 300,000-400,000 freshwater turtles for human consumption. None of these animals are native here, and when released into the wild (a common, though illegal practice), the exotics prey upon and displace our native wildlife. Worse, they’re all diseased and/or parasitized. Most of the frogs carry the dreaded chytrid fungus, responsible for the extinctions of some 200 amphibians species worldwide since the 1970’s.


    All legislators may be written c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814. Now’s the time. Most will decide this month upon what bills to carry next year.

    Eric Mills, coordinator
    email –

  • CraterJoe

    @Paul B
    Yao Ming is quite a celebrity in China, so his opinion can hold sway with the Chinese.

  • Douglas Main

    Paul B–Thanks for the comment. It would be funny if NBA players had to take oceanography courses… but I included that tidbit for the reason that CraterJoe points out–Ming is a huge celebrity in China, and his opinion is influential.

  • Mikey Mike


    Just like bluefin tuna?

    Here’s the thing. If you want to save a species, you need to leave it alone.


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