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Court backs shark fin ban, undercuts Obama's bid to drown law

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,California,Energy and Environment,Animals

A federal court Tuesday backed a California law banning the sale of shark fins, a Chinese delicacy resulting from a deadly practice, challenging the Obama administration to decide if it wants to continue its battle against the ban in the state and several others.

The U.S. District Court for Northern California rejected claims from Chinese-American businesses, especially restaurants, that the law was discriminatory and that it conflicted with federal management of ocean fisheries.

The San Francisco area Chinatown Neighborhood Association, which filed the appeal, "presented no persuasive evidence indicating that the California legislature's real intent was to discriminate against Chinese Americans rather than to accomplish the law's stated humanitarian, conservationist, and health goals," said the court.

The Humane Society of the United States, which sought to protect California's law, heralded the decision.

Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS, told Secrets, "We are so pleased that the trial court and the Ninth Circuit have rejected the outlandish claims of discrimination and the states do not have the authority to ban the sale and possession of shark fins. The Ninth Circuit rejected all of their claims, and remanded the case back for an examination of the permanent injunction proceedings."

But, added Pacelle, the administration is still on record against the shark fin bans in several states, claiming that it — not states — controls the sale of fish caught in the sea. "Now it's up to the feds, who came in late against us, if they want to press the case that states cannot ban sale and possession of shark fins. It's a morally untenable and legally unsound position," said Pacelle.

The California law was passed in 2011, but the ban on selling and serving shark fin soup became effective this summer, causing angst in the Chinese community.

Cutting fins from live sharks is already banned in federal waters, but the sales aren't controlled by the federal government, a problem according to the administration.

In July, the administration belatedly entered the case on the side of the shark fin soup sellers, arguing that the California law clashed with the federal law, which allows commercial shark fishing while prohibiting the "finning" of live sharks.

The Justice Department is worried that stopping the sale of shark fins"may effectively shut down shark fishing." The administration is working on a rule that would essentially overwrite the sales ban of shark fins in several states.

According to Pacelle, shark finning involves cutting the fins off a shark, and throwing the mutilated animal back overboard to die slowly — bleeding to death, drowning, or being eaten alive. He said the global estimate is that as many as 73 million sharks are killed for this purpose each year.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.