States have often been called the great incubators of public policy. Recently, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that banned the sale of shark fins in California. California now joins Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Guam in banning the sale of shark fins within their borders. These states imported 570 metric tons of shark fins in 2009, by far the largest importers of shark fins in the United States.
This legislation was the culmination of work from several conservation organizations, and it drew support from Democrats and Republicans alike. As we celebrate Governor Brown’s decision, it is time for us to build on this momentum and look east for Washington, DC to finally ban the sale and trade in all 50 states, in order that those who attempt to import simply don’t become more creative in trying to get around the blockade that the governor created today on the Pacific Coast.
Indeed, the federal government has already taken dramatic action that has helped curb the sale of shark fins in the United States. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, which made it unlawful to possess a shark fin in American waters without the shark’s carcass. Loopholes in the ban, however, prevented effective enforcement, and finning continued.
Last year President Obama signed legislation, that strengthened the federal ban on shark finning, and now it is time to close the loop and ban the possession of fins themselves.
There is simply no good reason to continue this barbaric tradition. Although an ancient Asian delicacy once reserved for emperors, polling shows that in California the vast majority of Chinese Americans supported Governor Brown’s actions. And this is no small statistic. California is home to over five million Asian Pacific Islanders—the largest API community in the country. In Hawaii the API community makes up 55% of the total population. The states where shark fins are now banned comprise nearly 42% of the United States API population. Even though opponents of the legislation tried to frame it as an attack on the Asian way of life, the vast majority of Asian-Americans recognized that this was one tradition that couldn’t be sustained in a world of seven billion people.
We should all commend Governor Brown for his decision and congratulate Assemblymembers Paul Fong and Jared Huffman. The governor had been lobbied heavily, and the debate has been passionate. But history will judge him for having made the right decision.
It is time for Washington to follow his lead.
(Image: Black-tipped reef shark. Image credit: greyloch/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)