California’s law that prohibits the sale, possession, trade, or distribution of shark fins goes into full effect Monday, effectively ending the longtime Chinese custom of serving shark fin soup.
Signed into law in October 2011 by Gov. Jerry Brown, the controversial legislation featured a compromise allowing storeowners and restaurateurs to continue selling their existing supply of shark fins until July 1.
Beginning Monday, anyone caught violating the law could face a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
When it was proposed, the law sparked a fierce debate between environmentalists, who cite saving the ecosystem and the dwindling shark population as reasons for the ban, and some Chinese-Americans, who want to continue to honor the Chinese tradition of serving shark fin soup.
The gelatinous, yellow soup is an expensive delicacy, served during weddings, banquets and other ceremonies. For many, its cultural roots go deep.
When the ban was up for a vote in the California Legislature in 2011, some restaurant owners expressed dismay. But others said demand for shark fin soup has decreased.
“The ban hasn’t affected my customer base,” said Harry Kwok, manager of Hop Li Seafood Restaurant in Los Angeles, a day before the ban does into effect. “Most of my customers are American so there isn’t a demand for shark fin soup."
Meanwhile, several members of Congress are expressing concern over a proposed federal regulation which may preempt the California's shark-fin ban -- as well as similar laws in other states.
The rule -- proposed by by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries management division, the National Marine Fisheries Services -- says state and territory shark fin laws are pre-empted if they are found to be inconsistent with federal fishery management plans or regulations.
Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California and representatives from New York, Florida and Guam are seeking to change the proposed regulation, which would allow fishermen to possess shark fins as long as they are "naturally attached to the corresponding carcass."
California's law, nonetheless, will go forward on Monday. It comes after an unsuccessful 2012 court challenge that claimed the law discriminates against Asian-Americans.
"California's shark fin ban does nothing to what it claims," said Taylor Chow, a member of Asian Americans for Political Advancement, one of the organizations that challenged the ban in court. "It only uses people's good hearts to penalize the Chinese from utilizing fins of legal harvest sharks."
California joins Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland and Delaware as states that have passed bills banning the sale of shark fins.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Embedded photo credit: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File