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california legislation > AB 376

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Date of Hearing: March 22, 2011

ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON WATER, PARKS AND WILDLIFE
Jared Huffman, Chair
AB 376 (Fong and Huffman) - As Amended: March 14, 2011

SUBJECT
: Shark Fins

SUMMARY : Makes it unlawful for any person to possess, sell or
trade a shark fin. Specifically, this bill :

1)Makes it unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for
sale, trade or distribute a shark fin.

2)Provides an exception to the prohibition on possession of
shark fins for any person who holds a permit to possess a
shark fin for scientific purposes, and for any person who
holds a license or permit to take sharks for recreational or
commercial purposes and possesses a shark fin consistent with
that license or permit.

3)Defines a shark fin as a raw, dried or otherwise processed
detached fin or tail of a shark.

4)Makes legislative findings and declarations regarding the
importance of sharks for the ocean ecosystem, and the impacts
of the practice and market demand for shark finning.

EXISTING LAW :

1)Makes it unlawful to sell, purchase, deliver for commercial
purposes, or possess on any commercial fishing vessel any
shark fin or shark tail or portion thereof that has been
removed from the carcass, with the exception of thresher shark
tails and fins whose original shape remains unaltered, which
may be possessed on a registered commercial fishing vessel if
the corresponding carcass is in possession for each fin and
tail (Fish and Game Code 7704).

2)Authorizes certain species of sharks to be taken or landed
with a recreational or commercial fishing license, subject to
specified take limits and gear restrictions. The taking of
any white shark for recreational or commercial purposes is
prohibited.









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3)Prohibits the deterioration or waste of fish taken in state
waters.

4)Federal law also bans the practice of shark finning in federal
waters.

FISCAL EFFECT : Unknown

COMMENTS :

Background : Sharks, of which there are some 400 species
worldwide, are top marine predators and live in oceans around
the world. The critical importance of sharks to the health,
balance and biodiversity of the ocean ecosystem is well
recognized in the scientific literature. According to NOAA
Fisheries, most sharks are vulnerable to overfishing because
they are long-lived, take many years to mature, and only have a
few young at a time. Consequently, recovery from overfishing
can take years or decades for many shark species. NOAA
indicates that since the mid-1980s, a number of shark
populations in the United States have declined, primarily due to
overfishing. According to officials at the Monterey Bay
Aquarium, over a third of shark species worldwide are currently
threatened with extinction.

Findings from a few of the more recently published and peer
reviewed scientific studies on sharks include the following:

A 2003 study of sharks in the Northwest Atlantic showed rapid
declines in large coastal and oceanic shark populations, with
hammerhead, white and thresher sharks estimated to have declined
by 79-89% in just 8 to 15 years, and all recorded species except
one by more than 50%. The study noted that despite their
vulnerability to overfishing, sharks have been increasingly
exploited in recent decades. The authors conclude that the
magnitude of the declines suggests several sharks may now be at
risk of large-scale extirpation, and that these trends may be
reflective of a common global phenomenon. Collapse and
Conservation of Shark Populations in the Northwest Atlantic, by
Julia Baum and Ransom A. Myers, et al., Science, 2003.

Scientists recently completed the first ever census of white
sharks off the coast of Central California, published in January
2011. The study estimated only 219 animals, significantly below
expected numbers and substantially smaller than populations of








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other large marine predators. The authors note the
susceptibility of shark populations across ocean basins and
their role as top predators in ecosystems has resulted in
considerable concern about the conservation status of many
populations. White sharks in particular are highly susceptible
to overexploitation and are listed on the International Union
for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of most threatened
species. The authors emphasized the critical need to protect
and monitor great white sharks, especially given genetic data
indicating discrete population structure and the importance of
sharks for the health of marine systems. A first estimate of
white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, abundance off Central
California, by Taylor Chapple, et al., Royal Society Biology
Letters, 2011.

A 2004 study of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, conducted several
years prior to the gulf oil spill, estimated that oceanic
whitetip and silky sharks, formerly the most commonly caught
shark species, had declined by 99% and 90% respectively. The
authors concluded that oceanic whitetips are ecologically
extinct in the Gulf. They stressed that these precipitous
declines may be reflective of a general phenomenon for oceanic
sharks, and that such significant altering of entire assemblages
of large predators may have a considerable impact on the pelagic
ecosystem. Shifting Baselines and the Decline of Pelagic Sharks
in the Gulf of Mexico, by Julia Baum and Ransom Myers, Ecology
Letters, 2004.

Another 2003 study estimated that large predatory fish biomass,
including sharks, in the oceans today is only about 10% of
pre-industrial levels. The authors concluded that declines in
large predators in coastal regions have extended throughout the
global ocean, with potentially serious consequences for
ecosystems. Rapid Worldwide Depletion of Predatory Fish
Communities, by Ransom Myers and Boris Worm, Nature, 2003.

Finally, a 2006 study that examined shark biomass in the shark
fin trade concluded there is significant underreporting of shark
fin harvest, as the shark biomass in the fin trade was three to
four times higher than reported shark catch figures. The study
focused primarily on blue sharks. While the authors indicated
further research was needed before the findings of the study
could be used to draw conclusions about other shark species,
they emphasized that the large difference between trade-derived
estimates of exploitation and the catch estimates reported added








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to growing concerns about the overexploitation of sharks.

Demand for shark fin is largely believed to be the primary
driver behind overfishing of sharks and recent shark population
declines. According to an article in the New York Times, every
year up to 73 million sharks are killed for their fins,
primarily to make shark fin soup.

Support Arguments : Supporters note that sharks are critical to
the health and balance of the ocean ecosystem and their
extinction would be devastating to the biodiversity of the
oceans of the world. Demand for shark fin drives overfishing of
sharks and has contributed significantly to recent shark
population declines. Some species have been depleted by as much
as 90% and over a third of shark species are threatened with
extinction. Supporters assert that currently there are no
recognized sustainable shark fisheries, and note that sharks are
particularly susceptible to overfishing due to low reproductive
rates and their role as top predators in the marine food chain.
Supporters also assert that current state and federal laws have
been ineffective in curbing the practice of shark finning as
long as trade in fins is allowed to continue in response to
market demand. While recognizing that shark finning has been
important to Chinese culture for centuries, supporters assert
collapse of ocean ecosystems must take precedence over cultural
culinary heritage, noting also that many governments and
businesses in the Pacific region have recognized the urgency to
save sharks and implemented progressive protection measures.
Recreational fishing organizations assert that shark finning is
inconsistent with sustainable fishing practices. Some
supporters also emphasize the cruelty of shark finning, which
often involves cutting off the fins and tails of sharks and
throwing the fish back in the ocean alive where they are likely
to die a slow death. Finally, some supporters note the high
level of mercury in shark meat makes them unhealthy to eat.

Opposition Arguments : Although the committee has not received
any formal opposition letters to this bill, news articles have
quoted some individuals and businesses within the Chinese
American community who assert that banning the possession or
sale of shark fins will deprive Chinese Americans of the ability
to enjoy the long valued cultural tradition and heritage of
shark fin soup. According to the Los Angeles Times, shark fin
soup was a luxury item in traditional Chinese culture, once
reserved for emperors and kings, with a bowl of soup today








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costing as much as $100. The Times indicates the growing middle
class in China has created new market demand for the soup which
is also popular among Chinese Americans. According to the San
Francisco Chronicle, shark fin soup has been a traditional
Chinese dish going back to the Han Dynasty some 1,800 years ago.
The Chronicle reports that dried shark fin in San Francisco's
Chinatown today sells for $178 to $500 a pound, and shark fin
soup typically costs $250 to $500 for ten people.

It should be noted that legislation to ban shark finning has
recently been proposed in China by a member of the Chinese
parliament. Legislation banning shark finning has also been
enacted in the state of Hawaii and is pending before the state
legislatures of Oregon and Washington.

Some opponents of this bill have also suggested that shark
finning should be regulated through greater enforcement rather
than by banning trade of shark fins. Supporters of this bill
note in rebuttal to that argument that current state and federal
laws have proven ineffective in stemming the overfishing of
sharks which is driven by the market demand and lucrative trade
in shark fins. Most shark fins in California are imported from
other countries where California has little or no ability to
police or control finning practices and no way of knowing
whether shark fins in those countries are sustainably harvested.
Supporters also assert a ban on importation of listed species
would likely be unenforceable due to the difficulty in
determining with accuracy the species of the shark after the
fins have been dried and processed. Finally, even for species
that are not yet listed as threatened or endangered, supporters
assert maintaining a sustainable shark fishery is extremely
difficult if not impossible due to the life history of sharks as
apex predators with low reproductive rates that make them
particularly susceptible to overfishing and rapid depletion.


REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION :

Support

Action for Animals
Animal Place
Aquarium of the Bay
Asian Americans for Community Involvement
Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance








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Body Glove International
California Academy of Sciences
California Association of Zoos and Aquariums
California Coastal Commission
California Coastkeeper Alliance
California League of Conservation Voters
COARE
Coastside Fishing Club
Defenders of Wildlife
Environment California
Heal the Bay
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Natural Resources Defense Council
Oceana
Pacific Environment
Reef Check California
San Francisco Baykeeper
Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors
Sea Stewards
Shark Savers
The Bay Institute
The Humane Society of the United States
The Sierra Club
The Sportfishing Conservancy
United Anglers of Southern California
Wild Coast/Costasalvaje
WildAid

Opposition

None on file

Analysis Prepared by
: Diane Colborn / W., P. & W. / (916)
319-2096