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Local Politician Takes on Restaurant’s Shark-fin Soup

New state bill proposes ban of ingredient synonymous with wealth in Chinese culture.

Local Politician Takes on Restaurant’s Shark-fin Soup

Sharks would only swim in the oceans and not soup, if state has anything to do with it.

Fong (D-Mountain View) and Jared Huffman (D-SanRafael) figuratively jumped into shark-infested waters when they introduced  Assembly Bill 376, aimed at making it illegal to possess, sell, trade or distribute shark fins in California. They made the announcement at a press conference Feb. 14 at San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences.

“Current laws that ban the practice of shark finning are insufficient when we have species of sharks depleted up to 90 percent,” Fong said, in a statement. “The demand for shark fin is growing, and the worldwide shark population is depleting to extinction rates. I say it is time to remove shark fin from the menu.”

However, shark fin soup, considered a delicacy and associated with wealth in many Asian-American cultures, has support from others in the state Legislature.

Opponents of Fong's of the move to criminalize the fin trade, which include state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), have called it an assault on Asian-American culture.

In a statement, Yee said the bill "is the wrong approach and an unfair attack on Asian culture and cuisine."

Fong, a native of China, quickly dismissed the cultural argument. He said the legislation has been motivated by the practice of "shark finning," in which sharks of any species are caught, their marketable fins cut off and the less-valued remains of the still-living fish discarded.

In Mountain View, the at 2650 W. El Camino Real, and at 155 Castro St., serve shark fin soup. Barry Luu, a waiter at Hong Kong, said that if shark fins were banned, people would get used to it.

"Many people in China are heavy smokers, and restaurant owners at the beginning thought that if there was no smoking in restaurants, they could lose business," said Liu.

He describes shark fin as tasteless, chewy and gummy. What people really enjoyed, he said, was the soup. "Now everyone is under the law, and so no one complains."

At Hong Kong Restaurant, shark fin soup as an appetizer costs $25.50 per person and as high as $308 for a table of 10. At Fu Lam Mum, an individual serving costs $38, a whole rack of shark fin costs $180, and for a table of 10, the cheapest price for a wedding banquet is $438.

A spokesman for the Monterey Bay Aquarium—one of numerous oceanic environmental organizations to support the bill—said the overfishing of sharks to supply the market for their fins is the primary cause of their depopulation.

"It's pretty indiscriminate," spokesman Ken Peterson said. "The idea is to take the market out of fins all together, giving shark populations a chance to recover."

According to a statement released by Fong's office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in 2005 that two of the top entry points for shark fins in the U.S. are San Diego and Los Angeles. Fong want to also remind consumers that shark fins have high mercury levels and that the FDA warns shark fins could be dangerous to consumers’ health

"This is not an attack on the culture; this is an attack on the practice," he said.

—Additional reporting by Bay City News service.

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