A state law banning the possession or sale of shark fins took effect Monday, although local Chinese neighborhood groups are continuing to fight the legislation in federal court.
Assembly Bill 376, authored by Assemblymen Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, went partially into effect in January, but contained exemptions allowing the sale of previously obtained shark fins until the end of June.
Fong said in a statement that the legislation was authored "in response to clear scientific evidence that the global sale of shark fins posed a direct and immediate threat to the health of the ocean."
Fong has noted that shark fins sell for up to $600 per pound versus no more than $100 for the rest of the shark and that the law does not ban the possession and sale of a full shark carcass with the fin still attached.
However, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last July by the San Francisco-based Chinatown Neighborhood Association and the Burlingame-based Asian Americans for Political Advancement says the legislation discriminates against Chinese-Americans.
The lawsuit states that shark fin soup is "a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional Chinese banquets" and is used in celebrations of weddings, birthdays of elders and festivals such as Chinese New Year.
The case will return to federal court Aug. 14 for oral arguments, said attorney Joseph Breall, who is representing the Chinatown Neighborhood Association.
Breall said one of the arguments the group is making has to do with sharks caught in federal or international waters as opposed to those under the jurisdiction of the state.
"The fin laws are pre-empted by federal law," he said. "If you have a legally caught shark, you should be able to possess its fin."