Man with Fin

Despite being home to one-third of the U.S. Asian-American population, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill banning the sale or trade of shark fins—the controversial Asian ingredient for shark fin soup.

The nation’s most populated state has joined Washington, Oregon and Hawaii in becoming the 4th state to enact a ban on shark fins. California’s legislation now makes the entire West Coast shark-fin free.

Prized by Chinese royalty dating back to the Ming Dynasty, serving shark fins—most commonly found in the delicacy shark fin soup—was a sign of honor and respect and revered for centuries. As income levels have increased among the Chinese, the demand for shark fins also increased in China and abroad. But, the massive commercial practice of shark finning has been condemned by animal rights advocates and environmentalists as one of the most egregious crimes against nature as tens of millions of sharks are caught each year, their fins forcefully sliced off, and their maimed bodies tossed back into the ocean where they bleed to death, are eaten by predators or drown.

Shark populations have been dramatically hindered by the practice with some species declining by as much as 99 percent according to the protection group Oceana. Sharks are necessary predators vital for balanced oceanic ecosystems and the loss of major species  has brought imbalances to other species such as commercially caught fish and shellfish, and lower on the food chain species vital to those industries.

The practice of shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but importing fins from countries with no finning laws is still allowed, like Costa Rica, which despite boasting an image as one of the most eco-friendly nations, has one of the most active and profitable shark finning industries in the world.

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Image: Bird-Kid