A federal appeals court upheld California’s ban on sale of shark fins Monday, over the objections of Chinese-Americans that the law discriminates against them for popular cultural use of shark fin soup.
The groups argued that the law interfered with the federal government’s ability to regulate the fishing industry and that the law was invalid under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
“The Shark Fin Law does not interfere with activity that is inherently national or that requires a uniform system of regulation,” the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held. “The purpose of the Shark Fin Law is to conserve state resources, prevent animal cruelty and protect wildlife and public health,” wrote Judge Andrew Hurwitz.
The law was intended to prevent “finning” of sharks, which is the practice of removing the back fin and tossing carcasses back in the water.
Environmentalists and the state argued that tens of millions of sharks die annually as a result of the practice.
The Legislature passed the ban after determining that sharks occupy the top of the marine food chain and decline in their species constitutes a serious threat to the ocean ecosystem and that high amounts of mercury in sharks represents a risk to people’s health.
The Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Asian Americans for Political Advancement filed suit in July 2012 in an effort to stop the law.
In a partial dissent, Judge Stephen Reinhardt said the groups should be allowed to amend their federal preemption claims and go back to the trial court for a second try.
“The plaintiffs asserted at oral argument that if permitted to amend their complaint, they would provide additional facts demonstrating that the number of sharks caught in the exclusive economic zone has dropped significantly and that they have klost millions in revenue due to the Shark Fin Law,” Reinhardt said.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton refused to halt state enforcement of the ban.
In addition, Hamilton ruled the Chinese groups that sued “have not shown any discriminatory conduct by any government official – e.g. enforcing the law against Chinese-Americans and not against other individuals whose activities are regulated by the law.”
Case: Chinatown Neighborhood Association v. Harris, No.14-15781
District Court: Chinatown Neighborhood Association v. Brown, No. C12-3759PJH