Thursday, February 17, 2011

California's Shark Fin Battle - "Culture" not on the table?

In a quick 72 hour turnaround Sen Leland Yee has dropped his "culture argument" against anti-shark fin legislation in California and issued an email to interested groups (see below).

His initial decision to play the race card in this passionate debate cause a small uproar within the community and was a surprising strategy that could have moved a conservation issue about species loss and unsustainable fisheries into a no win culture war.

His decision to change tactics allows this debate to move forward on it's merits, taking "culture" and "racism" off the table, opening the door for a more fruitful conservation outcome.

Sen Leland Yee Email:

Dear Patric,

I wanted to write to you personally to make sure you understood my full position on the recent proposal to ban shark fin soup in California.

I am extremely concerned about the plight of sharks and the ecological impact to the oceans caused by the depletion of certain species. I am a strong supporter of the 2000 federal law, recently strengthened by President Obama, against shark “finning.” It’s a horrendous and cruel practice.

The seriousness with which I take environmental issues is evidenced by the 100% rating I recently received from Clean Water Action, the California League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club – one of only two Senators in California to receive this distinction.

That’s why, while I oppose a complete ban on shark fin soup, I strongly support efforts to protect endangered sharks and stop the practice of shark finning.

I believe we can both protect sharks and preserve the 1,800-year cultural heritage of shark fin soup through the following actions:

* A complete ban on any importation of shark fin to California that does not comply with the federal law against shark “finning” and a ban on the use of shark fins from endangered species of sharks;

* Adoption by California of the federal prohibition against shark “finning;”

* Imposition of strict penalties for breaking these laws;

* Use of such resources collected through penalties for regulation and education about sharks and ocean ecology

While I do feel that we should find a way to protect a cultural staple, I made a mistake by indiscriminately labeling those who support the ban as “culturally insensitive.” That is neither accurate nor constructive, and I deeply regret offending those who were hurt by my comments.

Those who have labeled my position as one of disregard for the environment and the plight of sharks are making a similar mistake.My commitment is to seek common ground and pass meaningful legislation that protects endangered species and our oceans.

If you wish to share your thoughts, please feel free to email me at


Leland Yee

Note: After the initial shock of seeing Sen Yee in front of a steaming bowl of shark fin soup to declare this conservation debate a "culture war", I have to admit I was a bit dismayed at the prospects of a fair and honest conversation in California. I still maintain that the proponents of AB 376 need to remain vigilant about the issue of race and cultural sensitivity as the "culture issue" could spring back to life.

The best advice I have seen on the matter comes from SF Foodie this week:

What Yee and the anti-AB 376 camp demonstrate is that the bill's advocates need to keep their language sharp and culturally sensitive. They also need to keep spokesmen like Assemblyman Paul Fong (the bill's co-sponsor), Slanted Door owner Charles Phan, and Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook) in front of the campaign. A Chinese-born chef like Yan may be able to sway voters that scientists and activists will never reach.

For now it would seem that conservation groups have "dodged a bullet" that was entirely Sen Yee's to chamber, and can now focus on the issues to see AB 376 enacted into law.

Patric Douglas CEO

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