Last week, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed a historic bill banning the import of shark fins. All imports will be banned as of January 1, 2012. There are a couple of loopholes, but all in all, this is great news for sharks.
The bill, co-sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance, brought lively debate in the State Senate where some Chinese-American senators argued against the bill, claiming it was discriminatory against Chinese. Other Chinese-American legislators supported the bill, and thankfully those supporters prevailed.
Of course, the clear winner in the debate was the shark. Sharks have played a pivotal role as apex predators in the world’s oceans for millions of years. Ecosystems where shark numbers have been decimated have shown major imbalances.
Despite their ecological importance, an estimated 38 million sharks are killed each year to supply the trade in shark fins, which are consumed in Chinese restaurants around the world. California hosts three of the four largest Chinese populations in the U.S. (the other being Honolulu, Hawaii, a state which boasted the country’s first shark fin ban). California accounts for about 60 percent of the shark fin trade outside Asia and is recognized as a trafficking and facilitation point for the global trade.
It is now illegal to import shark fins into the entire west coast of the United States (Oregon and Washington already have import bans), as well as in Hawaii. Let’s hope the trend continues; perhaps then sharks can be around for the next 450 million years.
Frazer McGilvray is CI’s senior director for coral reefs, fisheries and food security.