A federal appeals court in San Francisco refused to block a California law Tuesday that bans the possession and sale of shark fins that are detached from shark bodies.
Two Asian-American groups claim the law, which went fully into effect on July 1, discriminates against Chinese Americans because it prevents them from engaging in the traditional cultural practice of eating shark fin soup at ceremonial occasions.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision in which U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of Oakland declined to issue a preliminary injunction suspending the ban.
The appeals court said the two groups “presented no persuasive evidence indicating that the California Legislature’s real intent was to discriminate against Chinese Americans rather than to accomplish the law’s stated humanitarian, conservationist and health goals.”
The case now goes back to Hamilton’s court for further proceedings, including a possible full trial on whether there should be a permanent injunction against the law.
The court said that other issues in the case, including U.S. government claims that the law may interfere with federal management of fisheries, could be considered during the further proceedings.
The purpose of the law, according to the Legislature, is to “help ensure that sharks do not become extinct as a result of shark finning.”
Shark finning is the practice of catching a shark, cutting off the fins, and throwing the body of the fish back into the water to die.
The law went partially into effect on January 1, but allowed restaurants and individuals to use or sell previously legally obtained fins until July 1.
It was challenged in a lawsuit filed against state officials last year by the San Francisco-based Chinatown Neighborhood Association and the Burlingame-based Asian Americans for Political Advancement.
A lawyer for the two organizations was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
The Humane Society of the United States, which became a party in the case to join the state in defending the law, applauded the decision.
Jennifer Fearing, the society’s California senior state director, said, “Federal courts have now ruled twice to keep California’s landmark shark fin law in place, rejecting the efforts from shark finning proponents to block enforcement of the law.
“The new shark fin law is a critical tool in eliminating the market for shark fins in California and ending our state’s role in facilitating this cruel and wasteful practice,” Fearing maintained.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News