Fresh 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.