New York legislators introduced a bill on Tuesday that would ban the sale, trading, distribution and possession of shark fins in the state by as early as 2013. Similar laws have been passed in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington; Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia have pending legislation.
Among the sponsors of the bill in the New York Assembly is Grace Meng, who represents Flushing in Queens where the population is heavily Asian. Meng’s immigrant parents both owned and worked in restaurants. While stating her liking for shark fin soup and saying that it would be a “huge adjustment for the community,” Meng also noted that “it’s important to be responsible citizens.”
Others interviewed in a New York Times article about the new bill expressed similar sentiments:
While many restaurants in Chinatown said that a ban would hurt their business, managers predicted that most clients would be only too happy to have it off the menu.
“It’s only the elderly who want it: when their grandkids get married, they want the most expensive stuff, like an emperor,” said Vincent Yu, a waiter at Grand Harmony Palace, where the soup sells for $30 to more than $100 a bowl, depending on whether the meat it contains is pure shark fin or mixed with shrimp or chicken. Alluding to the famously tasteless nature of the fins, he added, “Guests offer me a bowl all the time, but I like won-ton soup.”
Indeed, restaurants are already seeking substitutes for shark fin such as other kinds of fish, abalone or tofu, while businesses are preparing to stop selling shark fin altogether. Before California’s ban became law, a number of people emphasized how integral shark’s fin soup is to Chinese culture. But Patrick Kwan, the New York director of the Humane Society of the United States, downplayed such claims, saying that the soup is “nothing more than a status symbol — a ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ ”
New York is the biggest market for shark’s fin on the east coast so a state-wide ban could lead to similar laws in other states.
73 million sharks — which are an endangered species — are killed annually to satisfy demand for the soup with many of the sharks killed by the horrific practice of finning in which the fin is hacked off a live shark, which is then left to die as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
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Photo by Hector Garcia