SAN FRANCISCO — Chefs in San Francisco’s Chinatown are sharpening their knives to defend the right to serve shark fin soup, a staple in high-end Chinese restaurants in the city.
Two local assemblymen have proposed a law to ban the transport and sale of shark fins in California, which would essentially outlaw the high-end Chinese delicacy often served on special occasions.
Environmentalists and others argue that the fin trade encourages shark-finning — a practice in which fishermen cut the fins off of live sharks and throw the rest of the animal overboard.
Scientists blame the practice for a worldwide collapse in shark populations.
But Chinese-American market and restaurant owners here have joined forces with fishermen and seafood processors to argue that the proposed ban is discriminatory.
“The ban is insensitive because aside from the Asian market, there is no other market for shark,” said San Francisco shark fin processor Michael Kwong.
Kwong buys his fins from domestic boats that bring sharks in whole, and believes a blanket ban would unfairly target processors like him who derive fins from sustainable sources.
Federal law already prohibits bringing sharks on shore without fins attached, but a loophole allows imports from countries that permit finning.
California state Senator Leland Yee has called the bill just the latest in a string of attacks on Asian cuisine.
He compares it to recent attempts to outlaw frog and turtle consumption, Korean rice cakes, live markets, and the production of Asian rice noodles.
“Rather than launch just another attack on Asian American culture, the proponents of the ban on shark fin soup should work with us to strengthen conservation efforts,” Yee said.
In bustling Chinatown, shark fin soup can be found on the menu of most upscale restaurants. Dried fins can be purchased at most herb shops for $150 to $600 a pound.
A few restaurateurs say they only sell the soup to keep up with the competition, and would welcome a ban.
“We sell it because people like to have shark fin soup for banquets,” Tong Palace restaurant owner Paul Yen said. “But we want to save the sharks too.”
But for many in the Chinese-American community, the ban represents nothing more than a double standard.
“If you ban shark fin you might as well ban chicken and pork,” East Ocean Seafood Restaurant manager Selina Low said. “Do you think they’re happy just because they’re farmed?”