Sen. Yee Harpoons Shark Fin Bill

John Upton, Bay Citizen, February 14, 2011

In the debate over the sale of shark fin, what is a Chinese-American candidate for mayor of famously environmentally conscious San Francisco to do?

On Monday, Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) sided firmly with Chinese-Americans against environmentalists in an escalating debate about the controversial ingredient.

Shark fin soup is a cultural delicacy normally enjoyed banquet-style on special occasions. But shark fins make environmentalists seethe with anger because of the cruel way in which they are often harvested.

Yee, who announced his mayoral candidacy last November, held a press conference Monday in San Francisco’s Chinatown to denounce new state legislation that would ban the sale of shark fin.

Yee has recently battled on behalf of Chinese-Americans to allow live animals to be imported into California for sale in markets and to allow noodles to be served at room temperature.

“It seems that there are more and more examples where individuals or groups of individuals are trying to limit our heritage and our culture,” Yee, flanked by supportive restaurateurs and chefs, told reporters before evoking memories of racism against Chinese-Americans.

“It was not so many years ago that, if you happened to be Chinese, you could not go to school outside of Chinatown,” Yee said.

One shark fin, shredded, provides enough meat for a 20-person banquet, restaurant industry members said during the press conference.

Yee criticized the legislation, introduced Monday by Bay Area assemblymen Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), as being overreaching and insensitive. He said it unfairly bans the sale of all fins, including those from sustainably harvested sharks.

Fishermen who only want the shark’s fins cut them off and toss the animals back in the water, where they die. The practice is illegal in United States waters. The practice of finning is blamed by environmental groups, including Pacific Environment, for a dramatic decline in population numbers. Marine ecosystems can be thrown out of balance when the top predators disappear.

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