“Shark Finning” Not Allowed Off California Coast

Overview:  ‘Shark finning’ is the practice of removing the fins from a living shark, almost always used to make shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese dish. In 2011 after finding that ‘tens of millions of sharks die each year’ due to shark finning, California passed a strong law which was just unsuccessfully challenged in court; read all about in the Law Review.

Shark finning is the practice of removing the fins from a living shark. The primary market for shark fins is to make shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese dish.

Shark Fin Laws

In 2000, Congress prohibited shark finning, making it unlawful to remove the fins from a shark at sea, possess detached fins aboard fishing vessels or bring detached fins to shore.

In 1995, the California legislature made it “unlawful to sell, purchase, deliver for commercial purposes, or possess on any commercial fishing vessel…any shark fin or shark tail or portion thereof that has been removed from the carcass (of a shark).”

Millions of Sharks Killed

In 2011, after finding that shark finning continued to cause “tens of millions of sharks to die each year,” California passed the Shark Fin Law which makes it a misdemeanor to possess, sell, trade or distribute detached shark fins in California. I assume it’s difficult to catch the bad guys while they’re fishing, but not so difficult to catch them trading in shark fins once on shore.

The federal government regulates waters up to 200 miles off the coast, California has jurisdiction up to three miles off shore.

Chinatown Association Sues

The Chinatown Neighborhood Association and the Asian Americans for Political Advancement sued the State claiming California’s strict Shark Fin Law is preempted, controlled exclusively, by federal law, specifically the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.   The Plaintiffs also claimed the law violates the Commerce Clause because it interferes with interstate commerce in shark fins. Hopefully so.

The federal District Court Judge ruled for California. The Plaintiffs appealed.

Fishery Management

The Court of Appeals analyzed the Plaintiff’s legal arguments but ultimately concluded the Shark Fin Law does not interfere with activity that is inherently national or that requires a uniform system of regulation. “The purpose of the Shark Fin Law is to conserve state resources, prevent animal cruelty, and protect wildlife and public health…and to the extent the Shark Fin Law is effectively a means of ocean fishery management, fishery management is an inherently cooperative endeavor – with state and federal jurisdiction over the oceans divided according to distance from shore.”

Good Going California

I salute Attorney General Kamala Harris and our State Legislature for taking the extra step to ban this barbaric practice of cutting fins off of sharks, leaving them to die in the ocean. Cultural practice or not, it’s abhorrent. I’ll bet there’s plenty of shark finning still going on, but California’s new law should slow down the slaughter. Hopefully other coastal states and countries will adopt their own shark fin laws.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com.  

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