While two of her Asian American colleagues in the state legislature have squared off on shark finning, state Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has so far stayed carefully neutral on the controversy.
Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, last week proposed a ban on the consumption of shark fins, an ingredient in some traditional Chinese dishes. Environmentalists and animal rights activists have decried consuming shark fins, because often, fishermen chop off the valuable fins and toss the rest of the animal — which is much less valuable — back in the water, sometimes still alive. While this practice is outlawed by federal statute, environmentalists say it is still common, and not only has decimated shark populations but changed ocean ecosystems.
While state senator and San Francisco mayoral candidate Leland Yee has sided with environmentalists on most issues, in this case, he is siding with Chinatown merchants and restaurateurs, who say there are humane practices of harvesting the fins, and a ban is too overreaching. Though Fong is himself Chinese American, Yee accused him and other lawmakers of launching an assault on Chinese heritage and culture.
Asked how she feels about the dispute, Ma condemned “the horrific practice of shark finning” but declined to come down on one side of the issue, stating she had not yet read the language of the proposed ban.
“Before proceeding, we need to carefully examine the precedent of criminalizing food and/or a culture who consumes a certain food product,” she wrote in an e-mailed statement.