Protest Planned in Oakland's Chinatown as Shark Fin Ban Takes Effect

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A new state law banning the possession or sale of shark fins takes effect today, although local Chinese neighborhood groups are continuing to fight the legislation in federal court and are holding a rally in Oakland today.

AB 376, authored by Assemblymen Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, went partially into effect in January, but contained exemptions allowing the sale of previously obtained shark fins until the end of June.

Fong said in a statement that the legislation was authored "in response to clear scientific evidence that the global sale of shark fins posed a direct and immediate threat to the health of the ocean."

He said, "The high value of the fins and the low value of the rest of the shark drive this brutal practice of finning, where sharks are finned and thrown back into the ocean to slowly bleed out and die."

Fong has noted that shark fins sell for up to $600 per pound versus no more than $100 for the rest of the shark and that the law does not ban the possession and sale of a full shark carcass with the fin still attached.

However, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last July by the San Francisco-based Chinatown Neighborhood Association and the Burlingame-based Asian Americans for Political Advancement says the legislation discriminates against Chinese Americans.

The lawsuit states that shark fin soup is "a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional Chinese banquets" and is used in celebrations of weddings, birthdays of elders and festivals such as Chinese New Year.

The case will return to federal court on Aug. 14 for oral arguments, said attorney Joseph Breall, who is representing the Chinatown Neighborhood Association.

Breall said one of the arguments the group is making has to do with sharks caught in federal or international waters as opposed to those under the jurisdiction of the state.

"The fin laws are pre-empted by federal law," he said. "If you have a legally caught shark, you should be able to possess its fin."

Since the ban is still going into effect today, the neighborhood groups conducted outreach last week to local Chinese restaurants, encouraging them to get rid of their current inventory of shark fins, Breall said.

"We've re-emphasized the fact that people should get rid of their fins," he said. "We think they'll comply with the law and we hope that our appeal ... is successful in August."

A rally protesting the new law is scheduled in Oakland's Chinatown today.

The rally, organized by the group Asian Americans for Political Advancement, is scheduled for noon at the corner of Eighth and Franklin streets, according to Carl Chan, one of the founders of the group.

 

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