California Proposes to Ban Shark's Fin Soup--Is it Anti-Chinese?

Categories: News
jawsneverreturn.jpg
A Hong Kong ad calling for people to stop consuming shark's fin. Bus ads in San Francisco urge the same.
A bill recently introduced in the California Legislature may strip shark's fin soup from Chinese-restaurant menus for good.

The move shouldn't come as a shock. Environmentalists have long fought for a ban on the sale and possession of the fins, which are largely harvested by slicing them off live sharks, and then dumping the shark back in in the water to die a slow, painful death. (Read Dave's post, "Why Is Shark's Fin So Controversial?" for a thorough rundown.)

And yet it does.  

Called the "Rolls-Royce of the sea" in a front-page New York Times story on the issue, shark's fin is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, served both as an expression of prestige and an offering of respect. Shark's fin soup is a star on the Chinese banquet menu, often positioned next the words "market price." (A bowl for 10 can run up to $100 or more.) A ban would be a blow to tradition and to restaurants that make the dish, including King Lobster Palace in Orange and Capital Seafood in Irvine.

So it doesn't surprise me that some Chinese-American community members are firing back.  

Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who's running for mayor of San Francisco, called the proposed state law an "unfair attack on Asian culture," saying in a statement that many sharks can be sustainably fished. (Note: The bill was originally co-sponsored by Chinese-American assemblyman Paul Fong and has many Asian-American supporters.)  

Others have also pointed out a possible racially charged subtext in the ban.

"Read just one page of the 400 comments on the [San Francisco Chronicle] article, and you'll catch echoes of Americans' fear of the rising Chinese middle class, who are identified as the primary market for shark's fin, and the persistent suspicion and disgust many Americans feel toward other cultures' foods," writes SF Weekly's Jon Kauffman.

I did read some of those comments, and still, I'll simply call the proposed bill . . . sad. Necessary, but sad--and worthy of the sense of shock it has received.

For me, while growing up, shark's fin soup was always a treat, an oooh-worthy dish reserved for the most special of occasions such as weddings or 80th birthday parties, when everyday broths such as egg drop and hot and sour just wouldn't do.     

Slurping the delicately chewy, gelatinous fin in the piping-hot broth brings back fond memories of sitting at the Chinese banquet table with my many cousins--but then again, so does sticking duck heads on chopsticks and starting a battle in our plastic-protected seats.

The fact is, our consumption of shark's fin is threatening the ecosystem, killing an estimated 73 million sharks per year. It has to go. There will be plenty of other inspiring, history-filled dishes to fill the gap on the Lazy Susan.  

It just needs a proper farewell, not the anti-Chinese bullshit it's been getting.

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33 comments
Skygrl25
Skygrl25

Its a cruel death for a shark: cutting off the fins while its still alive is horrific. Then tossing the shark back in the ocean. Seriously jst for a bowl of soup. How would it feel if a shark came to land & cut off our arms & legs and left us on the side of the road to die a slow death? This should be a global ban!

FriendsForSealsOrg
FriendsForSealsOrg

The question of whether it's anti-Chinese is ridiculous!!  When Canada talks about selling seal meat to China, the Chinese people get extremely offended. Now, because shark fin soup was created in China, we're trying to stir up an ethnic controversy OC Weekly??These issues are about animal/marine mammal cruelty only.

Waynechssi
Waynechssi

The harvest is cruel, ban the way they harvest! Why ban all? Chinese culture eat the whole fish, it is the greedy fisherman took the fin only! Ban the way they harvest, don't ban the dish!

Andrea
Andrea

It's sad that this argument seems mainly about race and supposed attacks on Chinese culture. What people should be focused on is the fact that we as humans are over fishing the oceans. Blaming one culture is pointless; we have all let it happen. What is even more upsetting to me is that we are so concerned with what goes into our stomachs, that we are willing to kill without thought to how it will affect our planet.We need to be smarter in the way we eat. Killing any animal is cruel. That being said, we are omnivorous and have to face the fact that while eating meat may be a bit barbaric, it has been a part of our human culture since before we could farm. If we have to keep consuming meat, we should at least be eating something that is sustainable. That's why I really believe arguing if you ban shark finning you should also ban killing cows and chickens is an ignorant statement. Whoever says that is just thinking with their stomach.You only have to look to our governments to see how great they are at regulating, to see how well controlling the consumption of shark will be. Besides, how could we ever farm them responsibly? I have seen the salmon farms of the west coast. They are dirty and detrimental to our marine life, not to mention the amount of hormones they are pumped with and the difference in taste. If you can’t do right, don’t eat it.Not even Gordon Ramsay will use ethically farmed foie gras. How can we expect others to willingly use inferior quality fins if not even one of the most famous faces in the culinary world won’t change for the sake of mercy? We can’t, and the sad fact is, that we don’t have a crisis on our hands with the amount of ducks in the world. But we do with sharks.It’s time. We have to start acting or we’re going to start seeing major extinctions, and that is so much bigger than what I’m having for dinner tonight.

Robert
Robert

Senators Yee has succeeded when he chose to play the race card.We need to remember that Assemblymen Fong and Huffman introduced the bill as one for conservation. To preserve the sharks and thats what the context of this proposed ban should be.

Robert
Robert

If Senator Yee was hoping to gather a few more votes from business types when he runs for Mayor of SF, he might be surprised. Playing the race and culture card in this issue was a dumb move as Chinese everywhere,have condemned this dish as being outdated,cruel and senseless now that they know the fins have zero medicinal values.Even the Chinese in China are proposing a shark fin soup ban so where's the race issue?http://news.xinhuanet.com/engl...

Goategoat
Goategoat

Culture never trumps the environment especially when it is blamed on as racism. Leland Yee actually had the nerve to bring shark fin soup to his press conference. What a dope. Worse the Chinese food markets are serving up our non native turtles and frogs in the markets. Thousands die a year. Shut up with your culture.

Yvonne Chu
Yvonne Chu

The argument that the shark fin ban is racist, because the ban targets a dish that mainly Chinese eat, doesn't hold, because foie gras, a French cultural delicacy, has already been banned prior to this.Senator Yee's suggestion, for eating only the fins of sharks that are caught sustainably, simply does not work. The shark fin trade has many parallels to the ivory trade, and our experience with ivory demonstrates that the only enforceable way is to cut the demand.Here's an excellent KQED segment discussing why anything other than a complete ban is not enforceable: http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R2... (with Senator Yee's representative Adam Keigwin, Paul Fong, Peter Knights, John McCosker). This article also shows why: http://seastewards.org/san-fra...Passing AB 376 would impact what happens in other countries such as Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. Due to the internet, many Chinese in other parts of the world are aware of and participate in online discussions about AB 376. Perhaps discussions about the shark fin ban contributed to this lawmaker in China, Ding Liguo, deputy to the National People's Congress, proposing that CHINA'S TOP LEGISLATURE SHOULD BAN THE TRADE OF SHARK FIN. He said, "Only legislation can stop shark fin trading and reduce the killings of sharks" [Shanghai Daily, 2011-3-9]. http://www.shanghaidaily.com/a...

Lucy Shelton
Lucy Shelton

I am so tired of excuses for cruelty, -- culture, race, religion, tradition, etc. Cruelty and being inhumane to those who cannot fend for themselves is not what a civilized society should be doing, plain and simple. There are so many choices for people to eat without causing pain and suffering to animals for the mere pleasure of personal taste, especially not a prolonged suffering as the sharks have to endure.

I know many of you don’t care, but if everyone did not eat animals, we could feed everyone on earth. Over 22,000 children die every day mainly due to hunger and malnutrition. Also, people would be healthier, and the environment would be a lot cleaner and safer.

Would it be such a terrible hardship to go without shark fin soup? Leave them alone and stop being so darn selfish. Wake up and be real humans.

Eric Mills
Eric Mills

AB 376 has been assigned to the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee for a hearing on March 22, and support letters are needed NOW. And thanks to Assemblymember Paul Fong (himself of Chinese descent) for putting environmental protection and animal welfare ahead of a brutal and unsustainable cultural practice. Charges of "racism" are bogus and completely out-of-line.

Committee chair is Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), a co-author of the bill.

ALL LEGISLATORS MAY BE WRITTEN C/O THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA 95814.

Committee members are:Jared Huffman, chair (D-San Rafael), co-authorPaul Fong (D-Cupertino) - principal co-authorLInda Halderman (R-Fresno)Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton)Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills)Nora Campos (D-San Jose)Mike Gatto (D-Silverlake)Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina)Ben Hueso (D-Logan Heights)Brian Jones (R-Santee)Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens)Kristen Olsen (R-Modesto)Mariko Yamada (D-Davis)

EMAIL PATTERN FOR ALL: assemblymember.huffman@assembly.ca.gov

SAVE THE SHARKS! And when we do, maybe we can take on the similar problems in the state's live animal food markets, all of which pose major problems relating to environmental protection, risks to public health, and animal welfare.

Sincerely,Eric Mills, coordinatorACTION FOR ANIMALSOakland

Humble O. Piñon
Humble O. Piñon

"It just needs a proper farewell, not the anti-Chinese bullshit it's been getting."

You mean from the dozens and dozens -- literally dozens -- of hateful people, out of 300 million in this country alone? My calculator won't go that far, but I estimate it's almost .000012% of the population, ferchrissake! Must be a slow-news day decade down at the Weakly.

Non
Non

It is a sentive subject, environmental, ecosystems, culture, religion, etc. Think of people go hunting in the forest. Are we going to ban hunting? Well, unless we can come up w/ farming for shark, maybe is for the purpose to save the animal from extinction. We may considerate. But it is hard, I know. As a member of API community. I am not very a fan for shark fin. But some older generation. Well, I hope across the board, we as community regardless whom you are, should save any animal from extinction.

digkv
digkv

I remember eating Shark Fin soup and remember how it was such a treat, a delicious gelatinous treat. I'm as much a hippie environmentalist as many but it saddens me when food, especially one so integral to a culture, get banned. Remember when foie gras got banned in Chicago and there was that whole upheaval against it? Yes, shark fin's soup is bad for the environment so instead of banning it outright how about limit the amount allowed to be traded in? how about put a tax on it? Prohibition of anything only creates a black market and means to get around it (once again think foie gras), instead, creating a regulation by putting taxes on a cruel product would limit its market. And yes, the bill does in fact take away from a culture by banning its food. Food is integral to Chinese culture, as it is to many.

VickieChang
VickieChang

Vegetarian here. Not that I'm a fan of slicing off their fins, but what differentiates a shark from a cow or chicken? They all suffer.

Cunning Stunts
Cunning Stunts

Isn't one of the major reasons for the ban is due to the cruelty of it? They typically cut off the fin of the shark and toss the shark back into the ocean where it can not swim properly and dies a slow miserable death? I don't see this as Anti Chinese as far as not liking people who do this to animals and if they happen to be Chinese Shark Fishermen, then I guess I don't like them

Mr. Rosewater
Mr. Rosewater

A tragedy, certainly, on all counts; however, I won't vent my outrage until they ban pho to protect the cow, and I'm not even Vietnamese.

Eric Mills
Eric Mills

A ban on ALL shark fishing is the only workable solution. We've reportedly already lost 90% of the world's shark population, putting the ocean ecosystem in serious imbalance.

And FYI, most sharks are unfit for human consumption. The majority carry urea in their blood. If not promptly drained and refrigerated (which most fishing fleets are not prepared to do), the flesh tastes like pee, so there's little market for it.

Waynechssi
Waynechssi

Make it very clear, there is no ban on foie gras. I can buy it any time! The ban is on how they to feed the goose! Dig it!

michellewoo
michellewoo

Read the entire post, please. I was pointing out the backlash that the proposed ban has received from some Chinese American community members, and how some see an anti-Chinese subtext in promotion of the law. There certainly may be one. Seeing thousands of racist comments out there sort of solidifies the suspicion.

But I agree that shark's fin should be banned. It's not just that the sharks are suffering, but with the loss of 73 million sharks a year, our consumption of them is threatening the ecosystem. It SHOULD be an environmental issue, but unsurprisingly, it hasn't been treated that way.

Cunning Stunts
Cunning Stunts

I agree. I love meat. I even feel guilty for a couple of seconds before I tear in to a Veal steak. The Chinese should regulate the harvesting of Shark Fins more to curtail UNNECESSARY animal suffering. That is the issue here and a major reason why they are looking at banning it. If they could farm sharks, and even use more of the shark beside their fins (it would be like slaughtering cows and using only their udders for soup and tossing the rest away) and kill them humanely, I don't think there would be as much of an outcry.

I just hate how the author portrayed this as an attack on the "Chinese" rather than the real reason. Environmental reasons and animal protection are the reasons. There are many other things you can hate on the Chinese about, and this ban is not intended to accomplish that.

Cunning Stunts
Cunning Stunts

A cow or chicken die within a few seconds under most slaughtering guidelines here in the USA. Its over quickly. A better analogy would be to slaughter cattle by cutting off 2 legs and letting them go roam around until they die.

Waynechssi
Waynechssi

The all out ban is insensitive to Chinese culture! There is solution to make the fisherman keeping the whole fish. FYI, I know the shark and the value better than any one. The shark meat is widely consume in the Asia market! It is the greed fisherman keeping the expensive part and not taking care the rest. I have no interest to argue with you, I just looking for a happy solution to solve the issue!

Yvonne Chu
Yvonne Chu

I agree that some of the comments are culturally-insensitive. The law itself is not anti-Chinese at all. I was thrilled when I heard about the proposed shark fin ban – it's long overdue.

909Jeff
909Jeff

Michelle,

I reservedly agree with you... While I believe all of gods critters deserve to be either deep fried or bbq'd and consumed with different varieties of beer I think the race componant is a joke! This is no more a slight against Asians than Arnies ban on Foie Gras was an assult on the French. Then again the Austrian/Germans have made a career out of bitch slapping the French, so maybe it was? Now if we can only get the ban on veal overturned, I live by a couple dairy's that also raises veal cattle. Once the ban takes effect hundreds of Mexicans wills lose their jobs. Which will give Gustavo another reason to accuse everyone of being racist.

Cunning Stunts
Cunning Stunts

There are many racist comments and feelings about Chinese for the many other things they do and that are carried over to the comments on the San Francisco Chronicle. Its no different than any other race. Mexican, Black, Caucasians, etc. Hate to break it to you, but the Chinese do some pretty awful stuff in the world (polluters, human rights, etc)

You clearly wrote this article in the context of a race issue. Look at the title of your piece. You could have wrote it more along the lines of the destruction of sharks and animal suffering, etc. Heck, you could have even wrote it in the context of how tasty shark fin soup is and how you are going to miss it, but you know its the right thing to do. But you didn't, did WOO? Why? Is it because the race card would get more people to read it? Because you feel attacked in your daily life as a Chinese American? Just curious as to why you chose to write not to write it with a "It's not just that the sharks are suffering, but with the loss of 73 million sharks a year, our consumption of them is threatening the ecosystem. It SHOULD be an environmental issue," type of focus.

And I DID read the entire write up. Its not nice to point out that I didn't read or understand something just because I may not agree with you.

With that being said..Who knows the most similar tasting soup to Shark Fin Soup that doesn't use shark fin? I would love to know some alternatives as I too find Shark Fin Soup tasty!

Igloos
Igloos

Actually, chickens are raised to be slaughtered unlike the sharks. The chickens are fed hormones to speed up their development. Do a little research on the way chickens are farmed, Its disgusting. What's worse, a deer roaming the earth and a hunter shoots it in the back and waits for it to die or a cow that was living in a tiny cage its whole life just to fee someone a steak. Hunting deer is the same as hunting sharks. Sorry

Asianpride88
Asianpride88

This whoe anti shark's fin thing really is another work of animal rights group of the western cultures similar to the anti seal hunt. It is always the coloured people of the world and what they do which are wrong. So you want the Asians eat the whole shark in order to justify banning shark harvest, how about Asians say you should eat the whole chicken or whole cow like chicken feet, guts, head, neck etc etc which the west don't eat. Otherwise don't be a hypocrite to point finger at the Chinese of Asian cultures. Asian cultures do not attack or trying to colonize the western cultures's ways. The latter never stops to attack or colonize the East. The cruelty campaign is media stunt. I will love to see somebody going to all the western butcher houses to expose how many animals got killed, how many fish that the west like got killed humane or not. Why just point the camera to the Asian butcher shops? They should do something to control the substainable harvest of shark or to encourage humane way of finning them, but to ban a culture's dish is nothing but racist move to me.

EcoGear
EcoGear

Wayne, i hear what you're saying and am sure the fishermen in Taiwan,Hong Kong and China will bring the whole shark in and eat it complete from head to tail.Unfortunately, their harvest is a small part of the global shark fin business.The big players are in Africa,South America,India where fishermen go out and they know,they can bring back 100 lbs of fins worth $3000 or they can bring back one whole shark, worth maybe $75.These are the greedy fishermen you talk about that must be stopped and the best way to stop them, is to ban the product and take away the demand.

Eric Mills
Eric Mills

"Culture" should never trump animal cruelty or environmental protection. This commerce is brutal and unsustainable, and has to stop. It's irrelevant who's doing it. To repeat, with 90% of the world's shark population already massacred, there should be NO fishing of sharks until those numbers are restored. And for what? Soup and superstition, God forgive us. (Many fans of shark fin soup think it's an aphrodisiac, or that it cures cancer. Wrong on both counts!)

All cultures have their blind spots: Canadian baby harp seal hunts, American rodeos, Mexican bullfights, Philippine cockfights, Pakistani bear-baiting....

Bottom line, of course, there are too damned many people on the planet, of whatever culture, to the detriment of all other life forms. Even now, we are losing an estimated 30,000-40,000 plant and animal species annually.

All this reminds me of the bumperstrip, "We're not the only species on the planet, we just act like it."

Yvonne Chu
Yvonne Chu

Thank you for your comments. Benu has a 'shark fin' soup which Jonathan Kauffman, food critic at SF Weekly, liked. Enjoy vegetarian restaurant also has a 'shark fin' soup which gets great Yelp reviews.

As the function of shark fin soup is largely social (like taking someone out to a nice restaurant like Millennium or Fifth Floor), sometimes Chinese replace it with another expensive soup like a crab or fish seafood soup: http://vishotel.files.wordpres...

Here are other sustainable alternatives to shark fin soup: http://mnsmarine.tripod.com/we...

anon
anon

The actual reason this is such a tragedy (despite the cruel practice) is because sharks take about 15 years to sexually mature, and have only one offspring a year. At the rate we are killing these sharks, its not likely they will be able to reproduce enough to bring populations back up. If we don't stop finning NOW, all sharks will become extinct (18 species of sharks are already gone for good)

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