Appeals Court Dismisses Challenge to State Shark Fin Ban

A federal appeals court in San Francisco for a second time today rejected a challenge by two Asian-American groups to a California law that bans the possession and sale of detached shark fins within the state.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the California statute, which was enacted in 2011 and went fully into effect in 2013, didn’t interfere with a federal law on offshore fishery management or with constitutionally protected interstate commerce.

Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote, “The purpose of the Shark Fin Law is to conserve state resources, prevent animal cruelty, and protect wildlife and public health. These are legitimate matters of local concern.”

The court upheld a decision in which U.S. District Judge William Orrick last year dismissed the lawsuit filed in 2012 by the San Francisco-based Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Burlingame-based Asian Americans for Political Advancement.

Shark finning is the practice of cutting the fins off a living shark and discarding the shark’s body in the ocean, where it will die.

The main use of shark fins is in shark fin soup, an important element of Chinese cultural tradition at ceremonial occasions.

The two groups alleged the law discriminated against Chinese-Americans and conflicted with federal fishery management.

In an earlier ruling in 2013, the appeals court rejected the bias claim, saying there was no evidence the state Legislature intended to discriminate against Chinese-Americans rather than to accomplish humanitarian and conservation goals.

But the court said the two groups could pursue further proceedings on the federal-law-conflict and interstate commerce claims. The organizations appealed again after Orrick dismissed an amended version of the lawsuit.

Today’s decision upholding the dismissal was made by a three-judge panel of the appeals court. All three judges agreed the lawsuit in its most recent form should be dismissed, but Judge Stephen Reinhardt said in a partial dissent that the groups should be allowed to amend the lawsuit again to expand on the claim that the state law conflicts with the federal fisheries management law.

The ruling can be appealed further to an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Joseph Breall, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the groups “are considering all the options.”

“We believe the law is still unconstitutional,” he said.

Humane Society of the United States attorney Ralph Henry said the society “applaud(s) the court for upholding California’s decisive action on this important animal welfare and conservation measure.”

“The California law and similar laws recently passed in more than a half dozen other states are critical tools in preventing the loss of millions of sharks each year to the cruel practice of finning,” Henry said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed against state officials. The Humane Society, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation and the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance were allowed to participate as official parties to join the state in defending the law.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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