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Judge Dismisses Challenge to California’s Shark Finning Law

Judge Dismisses Challenge to California’s Shark Finning Law

California’s sharks are safe for now, at least, since a federal court dismissed a suit filed by the shark finning industry in an attempt to overturn California’s groundbreaking 2011 legislation targeting finning.

This practice, in which fins are removed from live sharks who are thrown back into the water to die, is brutal, inhumane, and unnecessary — and it would seem that the federal district court agrees. The dismissal marks the latest in a long line of blows against attempts to turn back the clock on California’s finning regulations.

The story starts with the legislation in 2011, which prohibited not just finning, but also possessing, handling, selling, trading and other financial activities related to shark fins. Initially, the federal government opposed the law, fearing that it might interfere with national marine fisheries management, but it ultimately came around, harmonizing federal law (which prohibits finning but not other practices) with the state law. As in other areas of the law, California was allowed to have a more stringent standard than the federal law required (as, for example, with emissions laws for California vehicles).

Shark finning industry members immediately opposed the law, and they were joined by Asian-American advocacy groups who claimed the law was discriminatory in nature because it targeted a traditional practice. This required careful consideration and review, as federal courts take such accusations very seriously. However, these groups withdrew their suit in February after a very large shark fin bust in San Francisco, clearly fearing that it wouldn’t be successful.

The other suit still remained, however. In deliberations, the federal court determined that the law served an important function in conserving California sharks and protecting human health and welfare. In addition, the court felt the law was not inconsistent with federal law, and could be allowed to stand without interfering with the function of federal jurisdiction over marine fisheries and marine animal protection. The court’s decision was counted as a win by conservation groups concerned with the dwindling number of sharks worldwide.

This law sets an important precedent for other states, which could use it as model legislation to restrict the ownership, sale, trade and use of shark fins within their borders as well. In California, conservationists argued, while federal law made finning itself illegal, it was perfectly legal to own fins. This created a situation where there was still a legal market for the delicacy, which created openings for fins exported from elsewhere as well as a black market in illegally taken fins. California’s law tightens up the net, making the oceans that much safer for sharks.

Laws like this can be tricky, as they definitely do have a disparate racial impact — shark fin soup is a delicacy in the Chinese community, and thus Chinese people are most likely to be affected by the law. The court determined it was constitutional on the basis that the impact was not intentional, but it does raise an important question: can the Chinese community come up with a palatable humane alternative to shark fins so they can carry on traditional recipes and ways of living?

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Photo credit: Joi Ito.

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81 comments

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1:41PM PDT on Jun 18, 2014

If you kill a critter use everything.

6:37PM PDT on Jun 15, 2014

I'm getting tired of Chinese criminals whining about and invoking "culture" or "tradition" for criminal practices. There's no trace of culture in Asia, it has become a polluted wasteland from the criminal greed that goes on there. Asia has hordes of psychotic greedy scum who also ship off down to Africa to illegally poach critically endangered wildlife since they've wiped out the wildlife in their own countries.. for what? Personal immoral greed. I have no problem with African militaries mowing down Chinese or other Asian poachers and smugglers, and I'd have no problem with blowing their ocean raping ships out of the water.

5:45PM PDT on Apr 8, 2014

I am so very weary of the Chinese considering themselves to be ''civilized'' and meanwhile, devasting wildlife!

2:00AM PDT on Apr 6, 2014

Noted.

11:48AM PDT on Apr 4, 2014

The Chinese community will need to join this century. So much of what they practice and eat is causing the decline of various species, species that may eventually become extinct. Sharks are definitely on that list. Maybe the Chinese community doesn't care whether this practice of cutting off the shark's fin and then letting this animal die a painful, slow death is right or not, but the rest of us do! Maybe they don't care about how much torture and suffering bears experience on their bile bear farms, but we do! Maybe they don't care how many orphaned baby rhinos and baby elephants result in their mad taste for ivory, but we do! Maybe they don't care if their ivory buying power results in the extinction of two of the world's most amazing species, the rhinos and the elephants, but we do! Maybe they don't care that an amazing creature like the tiger is being killed for superstitious so-called 'medicinal' reasons, but we do! Oh, and let's not forget their 'delicacy' of dog and cat meat. When a species is at risk of becoming extinct, who cares about whether a community can deal with carrying on with traditional ways of living? Not me!

1:28AM PDT on Apr 3, 2014

ty

9:39PM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

The shark fins themselves are utterly flavorless, so sneaker tongue would be a fitting substitute. It's just a status symbol that let's one asshole tell other assholes that they can drop big bucks on a bowl of soup.

Marrying 12 year old girls and removing the clitorises of six year old girls are 'cultural practices' in some African and Middle Eastern countries. Training 12 year old boys to dress and dance like women while addicting them to opium and whoring them out to Taliban leaders for anal sex is a 'cultural practice' in Afghanistan. Anyone want to argue that we need to be sensitive to these cultural practices? No? Than why do we have to be sensitive to Chinese bullshit? If foot binding of baby girls, once all the rage among well to do Chinese, made a roaring come back in San Francisco's Chinese community, what would we do with the parents? Dither about cultural sensitivity or lock them up?

8:36PM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

Good news for California. I did not realize there was a suit against it. I knew there was the original confilct between CA law and NOAA (I think) but knew that had been resolved.

5:57PM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

Thanks for the post.

12:50PM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

My understanding of shark fin soup consumption is that it is regarded as a status symbol for the wealthy used in cases on conspicuous consumption. No Chinese person is going to starve to death for lack of shark fin soup.
I am so thrilled to see rulings like this protecting our ocean life. Maybe the tide is beginning to turn in favorite of the animals.

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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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