Sharks beware! Justice Department may overturn fin ban

Updated: 2013-08-13 11:16

By Chen Jia (China Daily)

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Sharks beware! Justice Department may overturn fin ban

ANew Yorklaw willbanthe possession and sale ofshark finsstarting July 1, 2014 in an effort to protect populations of sharks, which are killed in the tens of millions each year for their fins. The measure comes after California and six other states in the USpassed similar bans covering fish shops and restaurants.

The ban has sparked a fierce debate between environmentalists and some Chinese Americans, who want to honor the longtimeChinesecustom of serving shark fin soup.

Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Asian Americans for Political Advancement filed a lawsuit against the State of California, arguing that it is "an ancient Chinese cultural tradition to eat shark fin soup as a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional banquets, as well as celebrations of weddings and elders' birthdays".

Their appeal of the District Court's denial of the preliminary injunction will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday morning.

"The US mainstream media have only told one side of the story about the shark fin ban," said Taylor Chow of the Asian Americans for Political Advancement. "Chinese Americans, as a minority, have been wrongfully targeted in history, and are this time as well.

"Most people don't know that sharks have been fully protected in the US from any acts of cruelty such as finning by US Federal laws. That's why US fishermen are continuously allowed to harvest sharks by the US Federal government and also the Department of Wildlife of the State of California," Chow said.

"Chinese Americans support the conservation of our natural resources and are against any criminal act including cruelty," Chow continued. "On the other hand, we oppose any law which discriminates and defames Chinese, while throwingaway finsfrom 760 metric tons ofsharksharvested in California a year."

The proposal to ban the shark fin trade in California was signed into law inOctober 2011 by GovernorJerryBrown,and provides for penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for violators.

On the website of the Asian Americans for Political Advancement, commentators had compared the "Shark Fin Ban of 2011" with the "1882 Chinese Exclusion Act" and called it an example of how "Chinese Americans continue to be victimized by injustice and prejudice".

"Our clients are not anti-shark or anti-conservation.At the same time they support the right of Chinese Americans to practice their cultural heritage, including drinking shark fin soup," said attorney Joseph Breall, who is representing the Chinatown Neighborhood Association.

"The US has strict laws against shark finning and allows sharks to be caught humanely," he said."There is no logical or legal reason that the fins from these sharks cannot be sold in the US. We believe the California Ban is unconstitutional and we now have the support of the Federal Government."

The Justice Department filed an amicus brief in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in late July.

Insiders told China Daily that the Justice Department in the brief has taken the position that California's law violates the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, adding that on a number of levels, California's new law was preempted by existing federal law.

"The United States has a strong interest in the proper application of preemption principles," the Justice Department's brief was quoted as saying. "California's law obstructs the use of fishery resources lawfully obtained in federal waters," and "the District Court failed to appreciate the conflict presented by California's ban on possession and sale of shark fins from sharks caught in federal waters."

Sources close to the case also said the Justice Department stated: "Here, California's law goes too far by banning all possession and sale of shark fins from sharks caught in federal waters, when federal law allows for possession and sale, so long as the shark is landed in compliance with federal lawConsequently, the court below erred in finding that the California Shark Fin Ban was not preempted."

"We are very pleased that the US Justice Department has expressed its view and supports the Chinese community's position that California's ban on the possession of shark fins is unconstitutional," said Pius Lee, advocate for the Chinese community.

"We are hopeful that we will soon be able to resume our humane tradition that our culture has practiced for centuries since the Ming Dynasty," Lee added.

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(China Daily USA 08/13/2013 page2)