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S.F. Chinese group sues over shark fin ban, alleges discrimination

July 20, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu
  • Dried shark fins at a specialty Chinese store. A San Francisco Chinese American group is suing to overturn a state ban on the product
Dried shark fins at a specialty Chinese store. A San Francisco Chinese American… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

The Chinatown Neighborhood Assn. of San Francisco is taking California Gov. Jerry Brown to federal court, accusing him of approving a ban on shark fins that is unconstitutional and discriminatory toward Chinese culture.

In October, Brown signed a law prohibiting the possession, sale and distribution of the product, a delicacy long used in Chinese cuisine, specifically in soup. Supporters of the ban say that the fins are cruelly obtained -- fishermen often slice them off live sharks, which are then dumped back in the ocean due to the low demand for other shark meat.  

The suit, however, says that shark fin soup dates to the 14th century and is “a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional Chinese banquets as well as celebrations of weddings and birthdays of one’s elders.”

The law, plaintiffs argue, infringes on the 14th Amendment “by targeting and banning a cultural practice unique to people of Chinese national origin.” The suit also alleges that the ban defies interstate commerce laws and should be trumped by existing federal laws dealing with shark fins.

Violators of the ban could face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

This week’s suit also names the state’s Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Charlton H. Bonham, director of California’s Department of Fish and Game, as defendants. Burlingame-based Asian Americans for Political Advancement is a coplaintiff.


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