Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Save the sharks; to heck with the surfers

I’ll say one thing about the citizens of California:

When they go for something, they go whole-hog. Their latest all-or-nothing proposition is a ban on all selling, trading or possessing of sharks, the key ingredient for shark-fin soup.

On the surface, it sounds like a great idea. Sharks numbers are declining, largely as a result of the seemingly insatiable appetite for the $80-a-bowl delicacy. Most of the shark-fin trade funnels through California.

But before the folks of the Golden State take action, they should consider this: Since they banned the hunting of mountain lions, populations of mountain lions have increased significantly, and lions’ attacks on humans have skyrocketed. Do they want the same thing happening to surfers on their beaches?

Perhaps a more measured approach, such as strict limits within sustainable guidelines, would serve to help protect sharks while not turning California into a no-swim zone.

That’s my take on it, anyway. Here’s the full story, from the Associated Press:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Actress Bo Derek won’t be ordering shark-fin soup anytime soon.
She joined lawmakers at the California state Capitol on Monday promoting a bill that would ban selling, trading or possessing shark fins, which are used in a soup that is considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures.
“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,” Derek told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Derek, who is a U.S. secretary of state special envoy opposing wildlife trafficking, said shark-finning has created a global environmental crisis.
Derek and other opponents, some carrying stuffed toy sharks or wearing T-shirts in support of the legislation, said the practice is leading to a decline in several populations of sharks. Fishermen slice off the fins then throw the live sharks back into the ocean to die.
U.S. law restricts the practice domestically but cannot stop it in international waters. Supporters of AB376 say that’s why lawmakers need to target use of the fins in California, which has the most demand for the fins outside Asia.
Derek told committee members that 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States come through California. She said the state imports at least 30 tons of dried fins each year.
Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and several U.S. territories in the Pacific already have taken steps to eliminate the shark fin trade.
Opponents from the fishing and shark-fin marketing industry testified the bill will harm them and cost the state jobs and tax income.
“There will be a ripple effect through a number of industries,” said Michael Kwong, whose family has owned Hoo Woo Co. Inc. in San Francisco for four generations.
He said shark-finning is a global issue and should be brought up in the United Nations rather than debated state-by-state.
In addition, dozens of other opponents lined up against the bill, shouting “No on 376” in unison.
The fins can sell for $600 a pound, while the soup can cost $80 a bowl. Critics say fishermen kill 73 million sharks each year for their fins.
Opponents of the bill say there’s no need for California to act because there already are enough federal protections.
The bill is politically and culturally sensitive because shark fin soup has been used for thousands of years to mark special occasions among some Asian cultures.
AB376 was approved by the California Assembly in May. On Monday, the Senate committee sent the bill to its suspense file, which is reserved for bills that could cost the state money.
The committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, said the legislation could be amended before it is sent to the full Senate to remove some exemptions that could permit some use of sharks.
“Now I have concerns that as long as any fins are allowed in California under the guise of some being legal, that it would keep our market open to many, many, many illegal fins,” Kehoe said.
State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, questioned how much good a California ban might do to deter harvests worldwide. He cited a National Marine Fisheries Service report to Congress that showed imports and exports of shark fins from the entire United States in 2010 were a fraction of 1 percent of the worldwide market.