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California Assembly bans sale of shark fins

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The California Assembly voted Monday to ban the sale, possession and distribution of shark fins, handing a victory to environmentalists who have been lobbying to curtail a trade that targets sharks to produce an Asian delicacy.

As many as 73 million sharks a year are killed for their fins, which provide the key ingredient in shark fin soup. Both Hawaii and Washington state, along with Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, have enacted laws banning sale, possession and trade of shark fins, while Oregon and California are considering legislation to do so.

California’s move is significant because the state boasts two of the largest Chinese markets outside of Asia, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The legislation sparked opposition from some prominent Chinese American leaders, including state Sen. Leland Yee (D) and San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee (D). The House bill was co-authored by state Rep. Paul Fong (D), a Chinese American.

The measure passed by a wide margin, 60 to 8. There is considerable support for the legislation in the state senate, which would have to act by early September. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is expected to sign it into law if given the chance.

“It’s clearly a big deal because this is the most populous state, and California is, by virtue of its size, one of the largest consumers of marine products like shark fins,” Mike Sweeney, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in California, said of the Assembly vote. “It’s also significant because with a state that has such a large Asian population, it signals that we can really tackle this problem across the Pacific.”

The bill includes a one-year grace period so businesses can sell off their stocks of shark fins, as well as an exemption to the possession provision for fishermen who are legally fishing sharks off the California coast.

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