Shark-fin soup is considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures. But the main ingredient is at the heart of a political battle that pits conservationists against those who say that a ban on shark fins is discriminatory.
"Our shark populations are being decimated, probably 73 million a year," said actress Bo Derek. "
Derek was in the state capitol Monday where she was joined by other advocates for a bill that would ban selling, processing or trading shark fins in California.
"The process is very deplorable," said Derek.
Derek is referring to a practice known as "shark-finning." Fisherman slice off only the fins of the shark, then the animals are thrown back into the water to die. U.S. law restricts the practice, but it continues in international waters because of the high demand for the fins, which can fetch up to $400 per pound.
"Despite the fact that we have protection and regulations that prohibit fishers from just finning here in the U.S., we're still importing shark fins from other places where that is just rampant," said marine biologist Chris Lowe.
Lowe says that shark populations worldwide are dwindling due to overfishing.
"Sharks simply don't have the capability to recover like many other populations, so that's the inherent danger," said Lowe.
Conservationists say this legislation would have an enormous impact on the environment because California is the largest consumer of shark fins outside of Asia.
"This is something that will send a loud conservation statement throughout the world, that California's serious about protecting sharks in our world's oceans," said Heal the Bay President Mark Gold.
But state Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) opposes the proposed legislation because it only bans the sale of shark fins.
"Under this bill you could have a store in Beverly Hills sell a $440 shark-skin wallet; you could have a store in Malibu serve shark steak; but you would ban the person from going to Chinatown and having shark-fin soup," said Lieu.
The proposed legislation has passed the state house. A vote is due in the state senate sometime in the next 30 days.