Flap over shark fins won’t be go­ing away any time soon

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Chris Davis NEWYORK JOUR­NAL Con­tact the writer at chris­davis@chi­nadai­lyusa. com.

US Se­na­tor Corey Booker may have joined the fray in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial arena Mon­day night with a barn­burner speech, but he could be in for an even big­ger fight on a dif­fer­ent front.

Amer­i­can fish­er­men are gear­ing up to chal­lenge a bill Booker and oth­ers have put be­fore the Se­nate Com­merce Com­mit­tee that would shut down the last ves­tiges of the har­vest of shark fins, an in­gre­di­ent of soup and medicine prized in Asia.

The tra­di­tional method of “finning” sharks is a grue­some busi­ness. Sharks are pulled from the wa­ter, their dor­sal and pec­toral fins hacked off while they’re still alive and they’re thrown back in the wa­ter, where, un­able to swim, they drown.

Finning has been il­le­gal in the US for years, but there is a loop­hole in the ban: Fish­er­men can still catch sharks and re­move their fins while pro­cess­ing the en­tire fish on land.

The new law would be an out­right ban on pos­ses­sion or sale of shark fins un­der any cir­cum­stances.

“Amer­ica can be­come a global leader by shut­ting down the do­mes­tic mar­ket for shark fins,” Booker told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Fins from as many as 70 mil­lion sharks end up in the global mar­ket each year, the New Jer­sey Demo­crat said, and com­pletely re­mov­ing the US from the trade would tell the world that it needs to stop.

There are more than 400 per­mit­ted shark fish­er­men in the US, from Maine to Texas, most in Florida and Louisiana. In 2014 they brought more than 600 met­ric tons of sharks to land, where they are pro­cessed for their meat, as well as their fins.

The new bill would al­low fish­er­men to keep har­vest­ing sharks for their meat, but not their fins, a mea­sure many in the busi­ness call wrong­headed. Most of the value in the busi­ness is the fins, not the meat. A lawyer for the shark fish­er­men said not be­ing able to sell the fins would be dev­as­tat­ing.

“Other coun­tries that are less likely to be as sus­tain­able as us will fill our void,” said Jeff Oden, a for­mer shark fish­er­man from North Carolina who said the leg­is­la­tion was wellinten­tioned but could ac­tu­ally in­crease pres­sure on sharks.

Ac­cord­ing to Booker’s of­fice, the US shark fish­ery was worth about $2.5 mil­lion in 2014, a small frac­tion in a world­wide trade es­ti­mated to be in the hun­dreds of mil­lions.

Ear­lier this month, a con­fis­cated haul aboard a COSCO ship ar­riv­ing in Hong Kong (the cap­i­tal of the world’s shark fin trade) from Panama gave an idea of the breadth of that trade — 1,940 pounds of fins from en­dan­gered ham­mer­head sharks with an es­ti­mated value of $100,000.

The largest seizure came back in 2014 — 2,162 pounds of fins on a ves­sel ar­riv­ing from Colom­bia.

Af­ter the re­cent seizure, WildAid’s Alex Hof­ford wrote to COSCO urg­ing the com­pany to “fol­low its in­dus­try com­peti­tors by act­ing legally, eth­i­cally and morally” and ban the trans­port of shark fin.

Within a week, COSCO, China’s largest ship­ping and lo­gis­tics firm, said it would im­pose a ban on shark fin trans­port, but did not give a time frame.

When COSCO gets on board, 68 per­cent of the world’s ship­ping will be com­mit­ted to stop­ping the trans­port of shark fins, although some, such as Tai­wan’s Ev­er­green Line, still ship fins from sharks that are not en­dan­gered.

Only about half the world’s shark fin trade moves through Hong Kong but it is up­wards of 6,000 met­ric tons.

Amer­i­can fish­er­men are al­lowed to har­vest sev­eral dif­fer­ent species, in­clud­ing tiger sharks, bull sharks and some ham­mer­heads. Con­ser­va­tion­ist group Shark Savers said that 14 kinds of shark most preva­lent in the in­ter­na­tional fin trade are threat­ened or nearly threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion.

Eleven states in the US have laws ban­ning the sale of shark fins, although shark fin soup can still be found on many Chi­nese restau­rant menus.

Corey Lee, a for­mer chef at The French Laun­dry — a Miche­lin three-star restau­rant in Napa Valley — told the New Yorker magazine that he wanted to chal­lenge him­self by cre­at­ing a faux shark-fin soup.

Chicken and ham bouil­lon, aro­mat­ics, Shaox­ing wine, hy­dro­col­loid gums for “jellyfish” tex­ture all went into the brew that com­pletely fooled Ce­celia Chi­ang, “the revered chef and restau­ra­teur who is cred­ited with in­tro­duc­ing North­ern Chi­nese cook­ing to Amer­ica.” She had no idea it was faux, Lee said.

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