California shark fin ban heads to appeals court with federal backing for reversal 

click to enlarge Chinese community members say a state ban against the sale of shark fins deprives them of using it in traditional soups. - PAUL SAKUMA/2011 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Paul Sakuma/2011 AP file photo
  • Chinese community members say a state ban against the sale of shark fins deprives them of using it in traditional soups.

Chinese community representatives and advocates trying to reverse a culturally controversial California law banning shark fin possession and sales are diving into a hearing today with backing from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled today to review the community groups' appeal of the U.S. District Court's denial of a preliminary injunction, along with an amicus brief filed by the Justice Department in support of the appeal.

The Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Asian Americans for Political Advancement sued the state in 2012 to stop the ban from being implemented. The community groups allege the ban, which took full effect July 1, infringes on the Chinese tradition of eating shark fin soup in celebrations that dates back to the Han Dynasty that began in 206 B.C.

The Justice Department's brief late last month states that California's new law "obstructs the use of fishery resources lawfully obtained in federal waters." Federal acts, including the Shark Finning Prohibition Act in 2000 and Shark Conservation Act in 2010, sought to protect the endangered species without sinking the commercial fishing industry.

Federal laws now allow fishermen to catch and sell sharks as long as they use the entire carcass.

"California says you can't place the fins in commerce, which violates federal law, which says you can put the entire fish including its fins in commerce," said Joseph Breall, attorney for the Chinese community groups. "The purpose of the law allegedly is to promote shark conservation, but it doesn't really reach its purpose because federal law promotes shark conservation because there is no finning in the U.S."

The Chinese community groups are hopeful that the clout of the Justice Department will sway the appeals court into reversing the lower court's decision and grant an injunction, Breall said.

"There are bans in other states, but no one has litigated them," he said. "This is the first case, which is why the government actually put in a brief."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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