Legislation that's riled eaters in California quietly gained approval in Washington today, as Governor Chris Gregoire signed into law a ban on shark-fin sales.
While Hawaii and Guam have adopted similar legislation, the law's passage makes Washington the first state in the continental U.S. to prohibit the sale, purchase, trade, and preparation of shark fins.
"We are absolutely thrilled with Washington's leadership," Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research and Education (COARE) executive director Christopher Chin was quoted as saying in a release.
Backers of the law say demand for shark fins is driving overfishing that threatens shark populations and the stability of marine ecosystems. According to COARE, support in Washington has been "nearly unequivocal." But a San Francisco mayoral candidate claims a ban under consideration in California is "an unfair attack on Asian culture and cuisine."
Shark's fin is a delicacy in China. The chewy, stringy cartilage is cooked into soups that are supposed to have aphrodisiac properties.
Although the soups remain a popular banquet item around Seattle, many area restaurants long ago switched to fake shark fin. Ken Wong at Noble Court Restaurant in Bellevue says the rationale was economic.
"It's too expensive," says Wong, who hadn't heard about the new law. "For a small bowl of soup, it's $40. Nobody can buy it."
The same bowl of soup made with imitation shark fin costs $9. "It's a totally different story," Wong says.