(Bay City News) 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.

FILE PHOTO: Shark fin soup (Krissy Clark/KQED)
FILE PHOTO: Shark fin soup (Krissy Clark/KQED)

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.”

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