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

Oceans of Inspiration – Sylvia Earle at Momentum 2011

Sustainable Seas: The Vision, The Reality

On May 12th, Dr. Earle addressed a crowd of more than 500 at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis as the final speaker in the Institute on the Environment’s groundbreaking Momentum 2011 event series.

To say that her talk was inspirational would be an understatement. With lyrical words and stunning underwater images,  Sylvia took us on an expedition from the deepest ocean to our neighboring planets, bringing into sharp focus what the  future may hold. She conveyed not only her passion for wh
at she calls “the blue heart of the planet,” but also her conviction that we must – and can – still rescue it from the overfishing, climate change and other onslaughts it faces today.

With the message that the next 10 years on earth will be the most important in the next 10,000, Sylvia invites us again to participate in her TED wish, “I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”

Click here for a video of highlights, Sylvia’s full speech is below.

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.

The Big Fool Says to Push On

It was 1967 when Pete Seeger wrote the song, ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’, but he couldn’t get it on the air due to censorship because of the Vietnam war. It took a year for the song to go public. Funny sometimes how things don’t change. The Big Fool still wants us to push on.

On August 23, we headed out with a collaborative team headed up by Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Captain Al Walker & Marine Biologist & Captain Scott Porter of Ecorigs. Our merry band included folks from Oceanic Defense, Sea Shepherd, Mission Blue, The National Wildlife Federation and All Eyes on the Gulf. What a mob!

Our mission was to head offshore to find bluewater, where we hoped to locate turtles and also to take samples of sargassum to see if there were any signs of hydrocarbons. But we found no bluewater and no sargassum. Our divers did spot one Kemps Ridley Turtle on the rig. We saw few bait balls, a few seabirds, and our guides, longtime fisherman Captain Al, and local marine biologist Scott Porter agreed that life out there was scarce.

Ten miles outside of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi, we approached Exxon Mobil’s Lena Oil rig. It has been producing since 1984 and sits in 1000 feet of water on the edge of the Mississippi Canyon. It’s no wonder that there is so much life growing on the rig. Notorious for ripping currents & big sharks, the Lena Rig promised to be an exciting dive.

As we approached, the roar and drone of the engines and generators was

almost deafening. It was an ominous, reverberating sound that felt like it vibrated every cell of my body. As a diver, I immediately thought of the poor fish gathered below, living with all of that amplified sound.

But the rigs do offer a safety of sorts – their latticework of metal below the water acts as an artificial reef where the fish can find shelter and food. Our two captains and dive leaders Al Walker and Scott Porter checked out the conditions. Visibility was low and the currents were moderate. Hoping for better visibility beneath the surface layer, they decided it was a go.

Fox News 8 from New Orleans was onboard, and they did a great piece the next night highlighting underwater footage shot by Al and Scott.


OK, so for all of you who know me, you’re thinking, “Why didn’t she dive?” Well, my hat is off to the guys who did, but I’m just not sure about this toxic soup. I hope to return to dive out in the blue water on some of the rigs farther offshore, but as you’ll see from the map image, this rig is right in the thick of it, and so I decided to observe from the surface.

On the way back to shore, we took water samples to be sent off for independent testing. As you can see, we encountered some very nasty stuff. In the video, the material on the surface that looks like mucous is, we think dispersed oil, and was actually taken the day before. On August 23, we found only foamy bubbles with brown oil on the surface. Conditions change from day to day a great deal.

Our day ended with a beautiful ray of hope, as we came through the marshes on the way back to Cypress Cove Marina in Venice. We saw egrets, herons, and roseatte spoonbills in greater and greater numbers as we came inland. They seemed to be healthy, and we saw adults and juveniles. It was breathtaking, and actually healing after what we had seen offshore.

So yes, all this, and The Big Fool Says to Push On. What do you say? Shall we push back?

Oil & Wildlife in Barataria Bay ~ They’re Both Still Here

As my colleague Samantha Whitcraft says, “Where there’s life, there’s hope”. I keep reminding myself of that. Today we found life here. Dolphins, pelicans, hermit crabs, and yes, even the welcome stings of mosquitoes. Just a few weeks ago, it was eerie to be on the docks with no sounds of seabirds, and in the marshes at dusk with no mosquitoes buzzing around your ears. So today I didn’t much mind the itching of a few mosquito bites.

On Friday, Chris Pincetich, Brock Cahill & I were guided out into Barataria Bay by Captains Al Walker and Tracy Palmisano. We were also joined by marine biologist Scott Porter. All three men have been on the job since day one of the Gulf disaster and their insights into the realities of what’s going on here have brought me to a new level of understanding about the scope of this tragedy. We went out to see for ourselves how much oil is still there, and we found plenty.

Al Walker was a charter fishing captain until the Deepwater Horizon disaster made his local fish unsafe for consumption. A supporter of offshore oil drilling until this disaster hit, his outspoken and often controversial commentaries have been aired on AP, FOX news, and numerous other media outlets. He’s hosted the Cousteau family onboard and has been diving IN the toxic crude & dispersant mix. Local boatyard owner and fisherman Tracy Palmisano and biologist Scott Porter have been right alongside Captain Al, documenting what they’ve seen for these months since the gusher blew. And what they’ve seen isn’t pretty – or healthy.

On our way out of Myrtle Grove harbor that morning, we passed shrimp boat after shrimp boat, heading out to their fishing grounds. The jury is still out on how safe or abundant their catch may be, but after what we have seen, I just don’t understand how anyone could buy, sell or eat shrimp caught in this area.

Oil is still very much present in the marshes, on the marsh grass, and on the bottom of the bay. As Tracy maneuvers his Glacier Bay catamaran into the shallows, the outboards kick up oil from the bay’s floor. As you walk along the edge of the marsh, your steps are surrounded by oil. And just a few yards offshore, a pod of dolphins chases bait fish and plays. Pelican Island was covered in birds, but the dark colors on some of the birds indicated that they too, may be oiled. We did not approach closely, not wanting to disturb these poor creatures anymore than they already have been.

As we motored around the marshes, we checked out a new kind of boom that is being deployed in some areas. All over Barataria Bay, you see booms. And only a few are of this new type. Its similar to the brushes used in a commercial car wash. The booms float on the surface, and below them hang hairlike ‘mops’ to catch oil and dispersant flowing under them. They certainly seem to be working better than the standard booms which just bob along on the surface, blocking only what is on the top of the water. The use of the standard booms makes no sense, especially with the overuse of dispersant, which has sunk most of the oil and dispersed it into the water column.

For Captain Al and his friends, their raw anger has perhaps mellowed a bit, but it still seethes below the surface, just like the oil which is still very much present in the Gulf and its bays. Yes, Captain Al and his buddies know that they’ve been exposed to large amounts of toxic materials, but they don’t make much of it. That’s just the way it is for them. I find it hard to put into words what I think of these men. What runs in their blood is what is missing from too many Americans today. They are overflowing with determination, strength, courage and love for their natural world. They are not going to give up, they’re not going to be silenced. The world needs more Bayou Warriors like my new friends, Al, Tracy & Scott.