S.F. Chinese group sues over shark fin ban

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A state ban on shark fins is being challenged in court by a group that says the law is unconstitutional and discriminatory toward Chinese culture.

In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law prohibiting the possession, sale and distribution of the product, a delicacy long used in Chinese cuisine, specifically in soup. Violators of the ban could face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

Supporters of the ban say that the fins are cruelly obtained — fishermen often slice them off live sharks that are then dumped back into the ocean because of the low demand for other shark meat.


The suit by the Chinatown Neighborhood Assn. of San Francisco, however, says that shark fin soup dates to the 14th century and is “a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional Chinese banquets as well as celebrations of weddings and birthdays of one’s elders.”

The law, plaintiffs argue, violates the 14th Amendment “by targeting and banning a cultural practice unique to people of Chinese national origin.”

The suit also alleges that the ban defies interstate commerce laws and should be trumped by existing federal laws dealing with shark fins.

State Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris and Charlton H. Bonham, director of California’s Department of Fish and Game, are also named as defendants.

Burlingame-based Asian Americans for Political Advancement is a co-plaintiff.