A San Francisco shark fin bust makes all other offenders of California’s ban on shark fins look like guppies. Before now, California authorities have only cited offenders with possession of small amounts of shark fin – generally under 10 pounds. Now, San Francisco business owner Michael Kwong has been cited for possessing over a ton of shark fins.
A California law passed and signed by Gov. Brown in 2011 and fully in effect as of July 1, 2013 states that it is “illegal to possess, sell, offer for sale or distribute” shark fin, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury-News.
California authorities first learned about the alleged shark fin supplier while investigating the Hong Kong East Ocean Seafood restaurant in nearby Emeryville, according to the Mercury-News’ report. They traced the supply of shark fin to Kwong’s shop on Howard St. in San Francisco.
Kwong is an outspoken opponent of the shark fin ban. He is a member of the Asian American Rights Committee of California. The AARCC views the law as discriminatory against Asians, many of who consider shark fin a delicacy.
Shark fin is traditionally eaten in Chinese soups and is often consumed at weddings, ceremonial events and banquets. Conservative estimates suggest that 26 million sharks are killed annually to accommodate the demand for shark fins. Some estimate as many as 73 million sharks are killed for their fins. Often these sharks are “finned” and released back into the ocean, where they inevitably die.
According to an AP report, Lt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking this crime seriously. Lt. Foy is quoted as saying:
“We consider this an extremely egregious violation of the law. We will work with San Francisco’s district attorney and push the case forward.”
SF Gate reports that Lt. Foy said that the confiscated fin meat likely represents thousands of sharks. All told, authorities confiscated 2,138 pounds of fish suspected to be shark fin in the San Francisco shark fin bust. The fish is to be tested to determine if it is, in fact, shark fin.
Because the crime is a misdemeanor, Kwong was cited and released. If convicted, he stands to face up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. The APreports that Kwong has insisted that the fins be kept refrigerated, in the hope that they will be returned to him. No word on whether authorities complied with his demands.
The Mercury-News quotes Jennifer Fearing, the humane Society of the United States’ director for California as saying:
“California’s shark fin ban is critical to ending the cruel practice of shark finning, and to protecting sharks and ocean ecosystems for future generations. But the law only helps sharks if it is strongly enforced. This important bust by California’s ‘thin green line’ sends a strong message that breaking California’s animal protection laws has consequences.”
In addition to California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Maryland, Hawaii and Delaware have laws against keeping or selling shark fins. Shark finning is also illegal throughout the European Union.
What do you think? Should possessing shark fin be a crime? Is California’s punishment enough to deter people from selling shark fin? Only time will tell whether the San Francisco shark fin bust will help curb the lucrative shark fin trade in California.