August 15, 2011 was Shark Day at the Capitol Building in Sacramento, California.  Representing the Turtle Island Restoration Network as a new intern, I joined supporters of the bill to ban the practice of shark finning, AB 376.  We gathered outside the Capitol, with a big blow-up shark, tents filled with organizations in favor of the ban, and posters with shark statistics to raise awareness about sharks and to show our support for AB 376.  This bill would make it unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin in the state of California.  Click here to learn more and take action in support of AB 376!

Sharks around the world are in grave danger, and the practice of shark finning is causing the decimation of shark populations.  Shark finning involves hacking off the fins of live sharks, then leaving the crippled bodies to die in the ocean.  This gruesome practice is often combined with longline fishing, which is largely contributing to the major decline in many sea turtle and shark species.

According to International Union for Conservation of Nature, some 30 percent of shark species are threatened or nearly threatened with extinction, and up to 73 million sharks are killed each year.  Sharks are apex predators and their demise has a cascading effect on other marine species. Their fate is of particular importance as sharks play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and balanced marine ecosystem.  A scientific study showed that when 11 species of sharks were nearly eliminated, 12 of the 14 prey species those sharks once fed on became so plentiful that they damaged the ecosystem, including wiping out the species farther down the food chain.

California is a large part of this unsustainable practice of shark finning, serving as the main entry point for shark fin distribution in the US.  By passing AB 376, California would strengthen the U.S. West Coast bans against shark fin trade by enacting the strongest of the regional shark fin laws, a significant step towards reducing pressure on rapidly declining shark populations.

When I entered the crowded room of the hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, co-authors Huffman and Fong were in the process of introducing the bill to the Appropriations committee.  They were followed by three witnesses, including actress Bo Derek.

“Sharks have been around for nearly 400 million years, and yet many stocks may be wiped out in a single human generation due to the increasing demand for shark fins,” Bo Derek told the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Derek, who is a U.S. secretary of state special envoy opposing wildlife trafficking, highlighted the importance for California to pass this ban as 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States come through California, a total of at least 30 tons of dried fins annually.  According to ABC News, the actress called the process, which may sell for up to $400 per pound, “deplorable.”

Once the witnesses were heard, supporters of the ban, including myself on behalf of TIRN, were given the opportunity to introduce themselves at the microphone and state that they support the ban.  We filtered through after one another and the diversity of the individuals and organizations was inspiring.  Some individuals made a point to ask for the ban to pass with no amendments, others were cut off for expanding on their thoughts.

When I turned away from the podium, I paused for a moment and scanned the room.  Lined up behind me was an unending row of supporters for AB 376 who had each added some flair to their outfits with shark costumes, stickers, or shark backpacks.  Meanwhile, the opposition, who were seated in the center of the room, was largely represented by an older generation of Chinese restaurant owners.  Knowing that individuals were traveling from all along the California coast to show their support for the ban, I was honored to be part of this historic day.

I was pleased to represent not only the majority of the Californian population, but also a large proportion of the Asian-American population that are in favor of the ban.  Like others who have shown their support for the ban, I believe that I have to do my part as I not only know that it is extremely unsustainable, but is also entirely inhumane.  Support from not only celebrities, but everyday members of the society are what helps put an end to practices such as shark finning.

Alongside Bo Derek, a host of Hollywood celebrities are lending their names (and popularity) to awareness campaigns.  NBA star Yao Ming has joined the crusade against shark fin soup in China to help discourage people from eating shark fin soup and reduce the demand for the product.

TIRN is proud to stand behind this legislation, and is actively working to support it.