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Shark fin ban: Yes, a distraction, Sheriff Baca

September 28, 2011 |  2:22 pm

Lee Baca

Sheriff Lee Baca has inexplicably picked up the preservation of shark fin soup as a pet issue, according to a press release from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles. The chamber lauds Los Angeles County's top cop for his "concerns" about legislation that would ban trade in shark fins, the key ingredient in the very expensive and prestigious dish shark fin soup, sometimes served at Chinese weddings as an indication of affluence that honors the guests.

The problem with shark fin soup is that the larger Chinese middle class, both in the United States and abroad, has been able to afford the food like never before, with the result that an estimated 70 million sharks are killed just for their fins each year. The fins are cut off, and the shark is thrown back in the ocean to die.

Sharks might not have many fans, but they do serve an important ecological function in the ocean, and their plummeting numbers are reason for environmental action. The Times' editorial board has supported the legislation, which awaits Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Hawaii, Oregon and Washington already have passed bans.

According to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Baca opposes the proposed ban as "a distraction from more pressing employment issues and suggested that the Legislature refocus on the economy." He went to Sacramento to voice these concerns in person to the governor, the release says.

The Chinese American community has called the bill discriminatory. There is not much demand outside that group for shark fin soup, to be sure, and they point out that other shark goods, such as shark skin wallets, have not been banned.

Fair enough. If banning those wallets would save tens of millions of sharks, I'd certainly agree, those should go as well. But that's no reason for vetoing the ban. The idea of the legislation was to focus on a limited item that causes a tremendous amount of damage and that requires extraordinary waste -- the disposal of an entire animal for one small part.

Is the proposed shark fin ban more a distraction for the Legislature or for Baca himself, plagued with a report  claiming that his deputies are abusing jail inmates and allegations by the FBI that a deputy was bribed to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate?

State government, meanwhile, has many important functions. One of them is to tend to the budget and the economy. Another is environmental protection and, especially in a state whose identity is so closely entwined with the ocean, marine protection. Brown should sign the bill.

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Photo: Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press

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