Shark Fin Bill AB 376 Passes One More Hurdle in California

It was a rare rainy June day in San Francisco as I crossed the San Rafael Bridge to meet The Shark Bus headed for Sacramento. Supporters of AB 376 were on our way on the Capitol to stand up for sharks and against the sale of shark fins in California.  But ours was a small group compared to the well financed opposition bussed up from Chinatown.

The fight has pitted influential Chinese American politicians against one another and Chinese traders and restaurant owners have spent large sums of money to hire lobbyists to oppose a ban.  Busloads of Chinatown residents descended on the Capitol, saying that a ban would violate cultural custom. In fact, the folks we spoke with didn’t seem to care much, it seemed that most were just along for the ride.

Last April, Assembly members Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced AB 376 at the California Academy of Science – proposing to make it illegal to sell, trade or distribute shark fins in California, which is one of the largest markets for fins outside of Asia.

Houston Rockets basketball star Yao Ming has joined other celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Scarlett Johansson, in public support of a ban. “Remember, when the buying stops, the killing can too,” says Ming in this riveting video.

Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Sunnyvale), a sponsor of the bill, said he “grew up on shark fin soup,” only lately to realize that “Anything that is unhealthy, that the culture is practicing, we should stop doing it. We used to bind women’s feet, and that was unhealthy for the woman.”

Sidewalk with Shark Fins in Hong Kong
Shark Fins on Hong Kong Sidewalk

Scientists say the fin trade has contributed to the catastrophic declines of shark populations worldwide, threatening to disrupt ocean ecosystems and encouraging the proliferation of other predators, which diminishes stocks of fish for human consumption.  Experts from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and The California Academy of Science are in strong support of the bill, and increased protection for sharks worldwide.

Shark finning has taken a horrifying toll on sharks, many species of which are now facing extinction. As much as 90% of the world’s sharks are already gone, and overfishing is the main culprit, with up to 100 million shark deaths each year. The practice is inherently cruel. Sharks are usually finned and thrown overboard alive. Unable to swim, they sink to the bottom to die a slow agonizing death.

Shark fin soup is strictly a luxury taste. Costing as much as $80 a serving in restaurants, it has been a Chinese delicacy for hundreds of years and often is served at weddings and banquets. It is a status symbol, considered to have medicinal properties, and its defenders see its consumption as a cultural right. Listen to what ‘Her Deepness’ Sylvia Earle has to say about what ‘luxury tastes’ are doing to our entire ocean planet, Click Here for her full BBC Interview.

But a growing number of Asian-Americans support AB 376. The Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance, for example, is a coalition of Asian Americans artists, scholars, environmentalists, elected officials, and community leaders who support a ban on the sale of shark fins. According to this group, thousands of years of eastern philosophy emphasize living in harmony with nature — not destroying it to make soup.

And a group of young Asian activists have started a ‘Sharkfin Photomob.’ ‘It’s not racist to love sharks’ is their motto, and their quickly growing website of supporters has been impossible for legislators to ignore.

Shark Fin Photomob

Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) have proposed amendments to allow the sale of fins from sharks that are legally fished in California waters and the importation of fins that can be certified as having been sustainably harvested.

A compromise may be difficult to defend and enforce. To ban the sale of imported fins while allowing the sale of California fins would violate international trade rules. In addition, when you allow some but not all fins, it becomes impossible to enforce.

The bill passed the Assembly last month, 65-8, but is having more difficulty in the Senate. Tuesday, in a packed hearing room, the bill passed the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee 7-0, but only after Fong agreed to work with opponents to amend the bill before it goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is not expected to reach the full Senate before August.

Hawaii and Washington state have already passed shark fin bans, and President Obama earlier this year signed federal legislation tightening a ban on shark finning in U.S. waters.

Its important that we not lose momentum now in California. Its going to take a continued push to get AB 376 through the Senate, so please keep the pressure up by writing and calling your Senators – it really does make a difference!

The most important calls to make for now are to the Appropriations Committee. The hearing date is 7/11/11.

Urge these Senators to vote YES on AB 376!

Senator Christine Kehoe (Chair): (916) 651-4039

Senator Mimi Walters (Vice Chair): (916) 651-4033

Senator Elaine Alquist: (916) 651-4013

Senator Bill Emmerson: (916) 651-4037

Senator Ted W. Lieu: (916) 651-4028

Senator Fran Pavley: (916) 651-4023

Senator Curren Price: (916) 651-4026

Senator Sharon Runner: (916) 651-4017

Senator Darrell Steinberg:  (916) 651-4006

‘Washed Ashore’ ~ Plastics, Marine Life and the Sea

Artist Angela Hazletine Pozzi

The Marine Mammal Center hosted the Grand Opening of their exciting new exhibit featuring work by Oregon artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi.  Along with her team of community volunteers, she collected approximately 7,000 pounds of trash from 20 miles of beaches along the southern Oregon coast last year and fashioned it into sculptures, all related to the sea: fish, turtles, jellyfish, coral and more.

Folks at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California know better than anyone about the catastrophic effects of marine debris on sea life. Every year, they are faced with attempting rescues on animals who are entangled in nets or have ingested plastic waste, often with lethal effects.  And it gets worse. When plastic degrades and breaks down into powder-sized bits, even plankton will ingest it, causing plastic to be almost omnipresent in the marine food chain.

In every square mile of ocean, there are 46,000 bits of plastic.  Bits and pieces of plastic caps, bottles, netting, flip flops, bottles and other trash — mostly plastic — were organized by color and then assembled into large sculptures.  The show can be viewed any day through Oct. 15. It is free to the public.

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Says Pozzi, “We welcome people to come and play,” she said. “It’s a terribly depressing topic and if you just dwell on the negative people walk away. But if people take their picture in front of it then they remember it. We have to engage people in new ways.”

This is the first time the art has been in California. When it was displayed in Oregon last year, Jeff Boehm, executive director at the Marine Mammal Center, saw it and wanted to bring it to Marin.

“We think this exhibit will engage our visitors with the pretty ugly truth about ocean trash and help them make the connection between their health, the health of our oceans and how their actions have an impact on both,” Boehm said. “On average, 8 to 10 percent our patient admissions are due to human interactions including those related to entanglements in trash.”

Chevron Annual Shareholders Meeting 2011

Chevron World Headquarters
San Ramon, CA
May 25, 2011

With $20 billion in profits for 2010, and in the face of rising gas prices contributing to crippling worldwide inflation, oil giant Chevron met with opposition Wednesday as activists from across the globe converged at their world headquarters to give shareholders and executives a reality check about the ‘True Cost of Chevron’.

Issues ranged from the massive contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon to human rights abuse in Burma and elsewhere. They have already been found guilty in Ecuadorian Court of having caused pollution in the Amazon at a devastating level, but Chevron’s lawyers continue to appeal and refuse to take responsibility for their devastating environmental policies. As one Chevron executive states, “It sure doesn’t look good, Chevron vs. the Amazon villages”.  

Earlier this week, advocates from the Rainforest Action Network in Northern California unfurled a 50’ banner on the lower deck of the Richmond Bridge blasting Chevron for it’s toxic legacy in the Amazon.

Representatives from Ecuador, Angola, Nigeria, Indonesia, Thailand, The Philippines, The Tar Sands region of Canada, Alaska, the Kimberly Region of Australia, Burma, and locals from Richmond, CA gathered to let Chevron shareholders hear about the true cost of maintaining our addiction to Chevron’s oil.  The folks from the Turtle Island Restoration Network were even there to represent the oceans and it’s creatures who cannot speak for themselves.

After being banned from last year’s meeting in Houston, 22 speakers were at last able to address shareholders from the podium. It was heartbreaking to hear stories of entire families lost to cancer, to see the tears and suffering first hand. But Chevron has not yet agreed to pay the fines in Ecuador, and it continues to make plans to expand its oil ventures to other ecologically and culturally delicate areas. 

These activists will not back down until their voices are heard and their grievances addressed.  As Antonia Juhasz from The Global Network states, “we will continue to work to fundamentally transform and restrict the way Chevron does business until we no longer need it’s operations at all.” 

For me, having spent most of this past year focused on the mess that we have created in the Gulf of Mexico, today was a huge wakeup call. I saw stark evidence of worldwide human rights violations, ‘pollute and run’ tactics, and multiple levels of environmental devastation far beyond what I previously knew about.  If you’d like to learn more about the havoc that Chevron has brought to the four corners of the globe, follow the links below. 

Participating Organizations

Amazon Watch

Asian Pacific Environmental Network

Burma America Democratic Alliance

Justice in Nigeria Now


Rainforest Action Network

Sea Turtle Restoration Project

The Global Exchange

The True Cost of Chevron

Support California AB 234 to Protect our Shores from Oil

Pacific Environment’s Jackie Dragon speaks about California AB 234 at the Golden Gate Bridge on September 15, 2010. Authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, this bill would afford California protection against many of the hazards brought to light by the tragic Deepwater Horizon disaster.