Shark fins stirring up state debate 

Two Chinese-American lawmakers held dueling news conferences on the same morning last week, one proposing a ban on the consumption of shark fins — the other condemning the proposed ban as an “attack” on Chinese cultural cuisine.

But shark fins are just one item on the Chinese menu that has come under attack: Just last month, a proposed limit on live invasive frogs and turtles for human consumption brought environmentalists and Asian lawmakers head-to-head.

The ban on eating shark fins was proposed by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, who joined conservationists in condemning the common brutal method of harvesting shark fins and dumping the rest of the shark — sometimes still alive — back into the water. State Sen. Leland Yee, running for mayor of San Francisco, said only sharks whose entire bodies have been harvested are allowed in markets.

“This is an attack on our culture,” Yee said. “Historically, California has attempted to limit Chinese and Asian-Americans from practicing their heritage and culture.”

Fong responded by pointing to his own Chinese heritage.

“I’m not attacking Asian cultural cuisine,” he said. “We’re just asking to remove one item off the menu.”

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma didn’t take a stand on the issue, stating she hadn’t read the proposed ban.

Meanwhile, all three have resisted efforts to limit the import of live turtles and frogs, considered earlier this month by the California Fish and Game Commission. The animals are sold for food in Chinese markets, and environmentalists like Eric Mills of Action for Animals say they wind up in the wild and introduce deadly diseases to native species.

The commission tabled the idea, but it next will be considered by the Invasive Species Council of California in coming months.

Mills said he plans to “dog” Yee during his mayoral campaign about use of “the race card” to avoid important environmental policy positions.

“Everyone’s playing the race card — it makes me want to puke,” he said. “I’m a big fan of cultural diversity, but not when it comes to animal cruelty or environmental degradation.”

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Katie Worth

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