U.S. Department of Justice Says California Shark Fin Ban is Unconstitutional

12 August 2013

For Immediate Release:


U.S. Department of Justice Says California Shark Fin Ban is Unconstitutional

Chinese Communities and Advocates Hopeful Ninth Circuit Will Review Preliminary Injunction on Aug. 14 to Block New California Law


San Francisco– Representatives and advocates for the Chinese community today announced some optimism that a new California law which bans the possession and sale of shark fins will be struck down as unconstitutional after the U.S. Department of Justice filed an amicus brief in support of their position.


The Justice Department filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in late July. In its brief, the Justice Department took the position that California’s law violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. The brief stated that, on a number of levels, California’s new law was preempted by existing federal law.


“The United States has a strong interest in the proper application of preemption principles,” according to the Justice Department’s brief. “California’s law obstructs the use of fishery resources lawfully obtained in federal waters,” and “the District Court failed to appreciate the conflict presented by California’s ban on possession and sale of shark fins from sharks caught in federal waters.”


“Here, California’s law goes too far by banning all possession and sale of shark fins from sharks caught in federal waters, when federal law allows for possession and sale so long as the shark is landed in compliance with federal law,” the Justice Department stated. “Consequently, the court below erred in finding that the California Shark Fin Ban was not preempted.”


“We are very pleased that the U.S. Justice Department has expressed its view and supports the Chinese community’s position that California’s ban on the possession of shark fins in unconstitutional,” said Pius Lee, advocate for the Chinese community. “We are hopeful that we will soon be able to resume our humane tradition that our culture has practiced for centuries since the Ming Dynasty.”


Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Asian Americans for Political Advancement filed a lawsuit against the State of California after it enacted a law banning the possession and sale of shark fins. It is an ancient Chinese cultural tradition to eat shark fin soup as a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional banquets as well as celebrations of weddings and birthdays of one’s elders.


The Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Asian Americans for Political Advancement appeal of the District Court’s denial of the preliminary injunction will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday Aug. 14 at 95 Seventh St., San Francisco, Courtroom 1, 3rd FloorChinatown Neighborhood Association et al. v. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., et al., Case Number 13-15188


“California’s law is not only culturally offensive, but according to the Justice Department, it is unconstitutional and should be struck down,” added Mr. Lee. “The Chinese community agrees that finning a shark is inhumane and wrong.  But under federal law, sharks are caught legally and humanely and there is no reason to discard the fin.  In fact, dumping the fin constitutes environmental waste.  That is why we use the entire shark, and stand with the environmental community in strong support of the existing federal legislation that bans the inhumane treatment of sharks.”


President Clinton signed the federal Shark Finning Prohibition Act in 2000, and President Obama strengthened the finning ban in 2010 by signing the Shark Conservation Act. California’s law, which took effect on July 1, 2013, goes further by banning the possession and sale of a shark fins, including fins from legally and humanely fished sharks. Both the Chinese communities and the Justice Department believe California’s law to be unconstitutional.


“California’s ban violates the Supremacy Clause because it is preempted by federal laws regulating federal waters,” said Joe Breall, attorney for the Chinese community organizations. “The State’s misguided attempt to target the “market” for fins does not address the inhumane treatment of sharks on the high seas and is also unconstitutional. With the federal government’s official brief now on record, we are hopeful that the Ninth Circuit will reverse the District Court and issue a preliminary injunction against California’s law.”



About the Chinese Community Groups


Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Asian Americans for Political Advancement support equal treatment for their members by the state and federal government. Eating shark fin soup is a humane tradition that the Chinese culture has practiced for centuries, since the Ming Dynasty. The communities believe in respect for sharks, and that is why they use the entire shark, not just the fin. They strongly support the 2000 and 2010 federal laws that banned the inhumane treatment of sharks, and support the federal government in its enforcement of those laws.




  1. lexi hoyle

    NO sharks should not be killed in any way especially in the horrible way that is carried out by these fishermen for a bowl of soup that has to much mercury to be even considered healthy for humans consumption.    

  2. Christina

    Whose country is this?  Americans don’t eat shark fin soup!

    • Meena P.

      Some Chinese kill dogs.  Is this next?
      Because it’s part of their culture???! 

      Why come over to countries and try to have everything their way!?

      This is NOT right. 

      How far are we going to bend to please other people from other countries??

      • Caroline

        Racists! These are Chinese Americans, this is what they eat, like Americans with lamb, veal, beef that has been fed downer cows and pumped full of hormones. Go protest the American Food Chain and stop spreading your hate and Sino Fear over everyone else.

        Or here’s a thought leave the country.

        The Irish brought corned beef with them, let’s hate the Irish for that, beef! The horrors!

        • Jose Palazzo

          Sharks fins are not “eaten”; in fact it is pure cartillage and not nutritional at all. Shark fins are used as a status item in banquets and show-off dinners, therefore absolutely unnecessary to anyone´s diet. To compare it with regular food eaten by other people is simly ludicrous!

  3. Lana

    Don’t worry sharks can still be finned in California waters and the ENGO’s will be able to raise more money for the mess they created. If sharks became a sustainable fishery tomorrow who losses the ENGO’s employees. All the ENGO’s dealing with sharks would be gone.

  4. Scott

    So according to this cannibalism should be legal, due to ethnic, or claims of heritage?! Sometimes I wonder about our courts. 

  5. Jocelyn Heaney

    Banning shark fins has more to do with common sense than it has to do with race. Human tradition and love of symbolism are not as important as the health of the oceans. It seems ridiculous to even have to explain this, but it seems as if people miss this basic interrelationship: Without sharks, there are no healthy seas. Without healthy seas there is no human life.  

  6. People: have you heard yourselves? Why you keep calling Chinese people inferior and regard the reason to oppose the ban is solely because their traditions and culture? Your are doing that either you are making comment without knowing the fact or you purposely want to promote the prejudice. We address our culture in opposing the Shark Fin Bans to show the court we have been victimized by the bans. We can’t continue to practice our food culture as fairly as other people on the same LEGAL HARVESTED shark– defined by the Federal and State Law. We never ask a justice law to give away for our culture practice or in favor our culture. That will violate our constitution principle of equality, and otherwise it is true if the law is tailored to target the Chinese.  The current California Shark Fin Ban continue allow to kill sharks for any commercial or recreational purpose as much as 760 metric tons a year(in 2011, most in bycathies of other value fishes) but only force all fins are thrown away, will it save any shark besides to humiliate the Chinese ?   I have nothing to say If you all can understand that.    

  7. Jose Palazzo

    A Chinese community which defends shark finning in the 21st century can hardly be called a community at all – it´s just a bunch defending “rights” to rape the oceans for the benefit of a few, plundering endamgerer and threatened species for short-term profit. What a shame on the Obama administration to be supporting this kind of absurdity!

    • According the testify by Federal Marina Fishery authority. NOAA and the US Department of Justice, all sharks harvested in US under strict management of MSA, supervised by US Congress must be harvested by quota and be landed with all the fins intact.  There is no shark specie is in endangered. Therefore, sharks are still allowed to be harvested by Federal government as well by State of California. 

      After seeing you accuse the Chinese totally disregarding all these facts, people triumphing their record size shark caught in the mainstream media all the time, no one ever asking to ban US beef because of the bullfighting in Europe, Who rapes whom? …….This is not the first time.

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