Bill in Congress aims to take shark fins off the menu throughout the United States

Shark fins for sale in Los Angeles' Chinatown before California's ban took effect in 2013.
(Louis Sahagun / Los Angeles Times)

It’s been four years since California’s ban on the purchase and possession of shark fins went into effect. And yet, more than 60 tons of shark fins arrive at the Port of Los Angeles each year, bound for chefs and grocers in states where sales of the Asian delicacy remain unfettered.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) hopes to change that. On Thursday, he plans to introduce a bill in Congress that would prohibit the buying, selling and possession of shark fins throughout the United States. If all goes according to plan, the measure would discourage the practice around the world.

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act “is needed to eradicate shark finning for good,” Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.


“While California led the way with a statewide ban, there are still almost 40 states where the purchase of shark fins is legal,” he said. “The United States can set an example for the rest of the world by shutting down its market for shark fins, which are often harvested by leaving these animals to die a slow and painful death at the bottom of the ocean.”

Experts estimate that as many as 73 million sharks become victims of the shark-fin trade each year. The fins sold for as much as $2,000 a pound in California before the ban took effect in 2013.

So far, 11 states including New York, Washington and Hawaii have joined California in banning the sale of shark fins. So have the Pacific territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Nineteen shipping companies and 36 airlines around the world have stopped carrying shark fins as cargo.

Despite the California ban, federal customs authorities do not restrict the import and export of shark fins through Los Angeles or other ports in the state, according to a spokesman for Royce. The congressman’s bill would change that by prohibiting the sale or possession of shark fins or any product containing shark fin.

The bill was originally introduced by Royce last June, but it didn’t make it out of committee before the 114th Congress came to a close. Supporters of the bill, including Oceana, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the world’s ocean environment, believe it has a better chance this time because the 115th Congress has two years to act on it.

“By allowing the sale of shark fins from foreign fisheries that have little to no regulations, we’re indirectly incentivizing the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning that is putting the survival of many shark populations in jeopardy,” said Oceana spokeswoman Lora Snyder.

She added that “more than 92% of the shark fins coming into the United States — dried, frozen and canned — enter through Los Angeles.”

Shark fin soup is a delicacy that dates back hundreds of years to China’s Ming Dynasty, where it was a symbol of status and power reserved for emperors.

Its chief culinary merit is a gelatinous texture, achieved through careful drying, precise trimming and a complex preparation method that takes several days. To enhance its bland flavor, cooks often add chicken or ham to the broth.

As China’s middle class has grown, so has demand for the delicacy.

The Chinese government has announced that it is phasing out shark fins from official functions.