The Chinatown Neighborhood Association, a Chinese-American group based in San Francisco, has announced its intention to file a lawsuit challenging the state of California's ban on the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill prohibiting the sale of shark fins last year at the urging of animal rights activists, who argued that shark fin soup, a delicacy in Chinese culture, is cruel to obtain.
"The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and then dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans," Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Anyone in California caught flouting the ban could be subjected up to $1,000 and six months in prison.
Chinese-American groups, on the other hand, have defended shark fins as an important part of their cultural heritage.
"Merchants are losing business--approximately $40 million and a loss of 300 jobs throughout California," Chinatown Neighborhood Association member Pius Lee explained to the San Francisco Examiner. "It’s discriminating to the Chinese population."
Lee added that, because the law still allows for the consumption of shark meat--just not shark fins--it's explicitly targeting the Chinese community.
The Chinatown Neighborhood Association isn't the first group to file suit over the shark fin ban. Earlier this year, the Asian American Rights Committee of California sued the state in federal court claiming the ban was unconstitutional.
"Shark fin soup is an Asian cultural delicacy with origins in the Ming Dynasty. It is a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional Chinese banquets, as well as celebrations of weddings and birthdays of one's elders," the committee wrote in its complaint.
According to a statewide poll commissioned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium late last year, over three-quarters of Californians support the shark fin ban. That sentiment is nearly as strong in the Chinese-American community, where a full 70 percent oppose allowing the sale of shark fins.
The practice of shark finning is prohibited be federal law in the waters under the jurisdiction of the United States government; however, local bans are targeted at restaurants using shark fins obtained in other countries or in international waters.It's estimated that 73 million sharks are killed due to finning around the world every year.