Cultural Right or Environmental Protection: Shark Fin Soup in California Legislation

Hope everyone's summers are fabulous! The sunny weather and clear blue skies are quite a happy sight to wake up to and the weather here almost beats that of California in my opinion (with the exception of the humidity). Anyways, summer is half-way over so let's milk the rest of it for all we've got! Do I hear more beach trips, more drowsy afternoons on the patio, more ice cold lemonade, and many many more new friends?But let's get serious. I was reading over the LA Times and this may be a rather old read (June 29, 2011), but I happened again on an article about a possible ban on the sale and possession of shark fins in California. Although the ban still needs to pass Senate voting, it has caused quite a battle among Chinese American politicians and the Chinese community in California. Stars like Yao Ming, Leonardo DiCaprio and Scarlet Johansson and some Chinese Americans who have grown up on shark fin soup support the ban, but others oppose it, seeing the ban as an infringement on cultural rights and customs.

Seeing the recent upsurge in legislation protecting sharks from the practice of finning in the US makes this article quite interesting. What were your thoughts about it? I know when I first read through the article I wasn't sure what to think. On the one hand, I know plenty of friends, relatives, and people in the community I grew up in who simply adored Shark Fin Soup and couldn't possibly imagine a life without such a delicacy so close to Chinese tradition. Shark Fin Soup to them was like having Moon Cakes on Moon Cake Festival Day/Mid-Autumn Festival or Nian Gao during Chinese Lunar New Year. The huge elephant in the room, though, is that shark fin soup calls for the inhumane  practices regarding shark finning that are killing thousands of sharks annually and threatening the marine ecosystem. Having such an imbalance in the marine ecosystem could very likely cause changes under the blue blanket that will come back and haunt us, whether environmentally, behaviorally, or even in our diets (fish-free diets, anyone?). Assemblyman Paul Fong says, "Anything that is unhealthy, that the culture is practicing, we should stop doing." I personally agree with this statement. There comes a point where something in our culture doesn't make sense to continue in the name of tradition in the current standing. What may have made sense centuries ago may not make sense today. Cultures continually evolve as they are passed down through generations, and I think given the current threat continuing shark finning has on our society and the world at large,  arguing to oppose the ban for cultural reasons seems a little askew to me.

In the end, I think it all boils down to "cultural rights" vs. environmental protection, but looking carefully at the article, though Asian Americans arguing for their cultural rights sounds great on the surface, those who are protesting are mostly doing so for economical reasons. Traders and restaurant owners may lose parts of their income due to this possible ban so perhaps the "cultural rights" argument is just (for now) a superficial excuse for their more important economic standing. But then again, perhaps something like this, that threatens the personal lives of many, could call for a surge in Asian American activism for the sake of AAPI social and political injustice. Although the bill will not reach the full Senate until August, this ban, I believe, will have quite a story in California.

What do you guys think? What were your first impressions when you heard about this bill? Do you guys agree? Disagree?

To read the LA Times article, click here.