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The Senate voted Tuesday to ban the possession and sale of shark fins, the chief ingredient in shark fin soup prized as a cornerstone of Chinese cuisine.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 376, was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on a 25-9 vote after a sharp floor debate on it and a companion measure, Assembly Bill 853, that was hastily written to exempt sharks legally caught by California fishermen from the ban and thus soften opposition. AB 853 cleared the Senate on a 28-8 vote and was returned to the Assembly for final action.

The votes for the bills were bipartisan, but they sharply divided Chinese American legislators.

Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, wrote both measures with the backing of conservation groups who said the practice of catching sharks, removing their fins and returning them to the ocean is cruel and threatens sharks' survival. "Finning" is already illegal in California, but the possession of imported fins is not.

Fong's measures drew support from Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, but was opposed by Sens. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.

Yee was particularly vehement in his opposition, saying the measure would hurt hundreds of small Asian merchants and restaurant owners and "create a black market for shark fins." He charactierized it as "discrimination against Chinese Americans."


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