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Chinatown Sues over Shark Fin Ban

Chinese sentiment last year clearly turned against shark fin, as reported in xinhuanet.

A Chinese lawmaker has proposed that the country’s top legislature ban the trade of shark fin, a high-end delicacy consumed by wealthy people in China and East Asia.

Shark-fin trading generates enormous profits, but encourages overfishing and brutal slaughter of sharks, of which some 30 species are near extinction, said Ding Liguo, deputy to the National People’s Congress, the top legislature.

Just a few days ago, in a logical next step, China announced a shark fin ban at official receptions.

China’s Government Offices Administration of the State Council (GOASC) is to issue guidelines to ban serving shark fins at official receptions, according to a report by news website on Monday.

An official with the GOASC said the guidelines, instructing all levels of government agencies to stop serving the delicacy at such events, will come out within one to three years, the report said.

Meanwhile, back in San Francisco the Chinatown Neighborhood Association (CNA) has filed a lawsuit against AB 376, the state law set to ban of shark fins in California by July 2013: Chinatown Neighborhood Association et al., v. Edmund Brown, et al.

CBS News points out that the lawsuit centers on racial bias.

Two Asian-American groups have challenged the state’s shark fin ban in a federal lawsuit in San Francisco, claiming it discriminates against Chinese Americans because it blocks cultural uses of shark fin soup.

“It discriminates against people of Chinese national origin by targeting and suppressing ancient cultural practices unique to people of Chinese national origin,” the lawsuit alleges.


Its use dates back to the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, the lawsuit says.

The CNA arguments are not very convincing. First, as Chuck Thompson explains perfectly, the lawsuit fails rudimentary logic and simple historical checks.

“Shark fin soup is popular because it was learned from Hong Kong twenty years ago,” [Clement Yui-Wah] Lee told me. “And even if 500 years ago some Chinese were eating it, this doesn’t mean it’s a tradition we have to follow. Chinese people don’t bind women’s feet anymore because we know it’s wrong.”

Lee is right. The Chinese don’t bind women’s feet anymore. It is just as true that the menu for the wedding feast of the Guangxu emperor in 1889 included no shark product of any kind.

Eating shark fin is to Chinese what eating Caviar is to Americans. Refusing to eat shark fin soup because of documented harm does not make anyone less Chinese. It might actually be the opposite; a more traditional Chinese custom is to study, respect and honor nature. Here’s another perspective on this same issue from Chinese NBA star Yao Ming

While shark fins have been used to make soup for hundreds of years, until recently consumption was limited to a small elite, said Yao, who gave up eating shark fin in 2006 and says he avoids events where it is served.

Perhaps the California law should have been written to say “shark fin soup is prohibited unless you are the Ming Dynasty Emperor of China.” Since there just isn’t much chance of that happening might as well just say it is prohibited.

Second, how does the race card play if the Chinese are officially banning and publicaly avoiding shark fin soup? At this point we could say the California law supports and honors Chinese culture by calling for a ban. Kudos to California for supporting Chinese conservationists and trying to help prevent shark extinction.

Photo by me...swimming with friendly blacktip reef sharks.

Updated to add: A 2011 Pew report called “The Future of Sharks: A Review of Action and Inaction” gives some detailed market data and analysis

Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overexploitation because of their biological characteristics of maturing late, having few young and being long-lived.

Inside the report you can find who is killing the most sharks and who is buying fins

Given that the Top 20 account for about 80% of global reported shark catch, the future sustainability of shark populations is effectively in their hands.

The future of sharks?

Here is some of the data on U.S. shark kill, which emphasizes that fins are not well tracked but the exports primarily go to Hong Kong.

Frozen shark fin is not identified separately in U.S. trade data. However, Hong Kong import data indicate that in 2008, 251 t of dried and frozen shark fins were imported from the United States in 2008 (Oceana 2010). Given that only 8 t of dried fin were identified in the U.S. export data as exported to Hong Kong that year, it is assumed that the majority of fins is exported as frozen product and is included in the U.S. data as “sharks, frozen, nei.”


In 2008, the U.S. reported that of its 35 identified shark stock/complexes, four were subject to overfishing and four were overfished, and the status of about 20 others was unknown or unidentified (NMFS 2009). Shark finning was banned in U.S. Atlantic fisheries in 1993, and this ban was extended nationally in 2000. As of 2008, all sharks in the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery must be offloaded with fins naturally attached.

Posted in Food, History, Security.

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