Shark Fin Controversy Escalates into Lawsuit

Summer Chiang


From New America Media:


The San Francisco-based Chinatown Neighborhood Association (CNA) announced last week that it intends to file a lawsuit to overturn California Assembly Bill 376, a new law banning the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins.


The bill, proposed by Democratic Assembly members Jared Huffman and Paul Fong, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last October. Although it went into effect Jan. 1 of this year, the law allows restaurants and individuals to use or sell shark fins they obtained legally until July 1, 2013.


CNA President Pius Lee told the Chinese-language newspaper Epoch Times  the association believes the shark fin ban is unconstitutional. The publication also reported that Lee criticized the legislation for discriminating against a longstanding Chinese tradition.


Supporters of the ban, many of them Chinese Americans, said increasing demand for the expensive cuisine is responsible for decimating the shark population.


Proponents of the bill also contend that high demand for the culinary delicacy causes violations of the illegal fishing practice of cutting off the fins of living sharks and tossing back into the sea still alive. Some supporters of the ban believe the practice is so violent and cruel, it damages the image of Chinese people and their culture.


However, Lee said AB 376 violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits discrimination against any ethnic group by targeting and banning a cultural practice unique to their culture.


"Chinese have traditionally eaten shark-fin soup to celebrate weddings, birthdays of elders and festivals, such as the Chinese New Year,” Lee said.


Charging that the law is contradictory, Lee asserted, that it “allows consumers to eat shark meat, but not shark fin, which is leading to racial tensions. How can you save the shark if you ban eating only the fins, but not the shark meat," Lee asked?


The shark-fin ban, Lee claimed, should also be invalidated under the constitution’s Commerce Clause because it interferes with the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Lee added that the ban violates the constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which established that federal law preempts state legislation in such cases.


Xiao-Bin Zhou, president of Asian American for Political Advancement, agreed with Lee and told the World Journal, "The ban allows other racial-background customers to eat 95 percent of a shark, but it doesn't allow Chinese Americans to eat shark fin, which is only 5 percent of a shark. The ban does not provide the equal right for all racial groups.”


Carl Chan, a board member of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, echoed Lee’s viewpoint. He told the Chinese-language KTSF-TV News, “This bill targets Chinese, saying that we are the people who are endangering the [shark] species, which is not true.”


But Assembly Member Fong told the Chinese Daily, "The bill does not discriminate against Chinese Americans. The purpose of the bill is to stop the killing of sharks for [their] fins and to save the world's dwindling shark population."

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