Although Chinese have considered shark fin soup a delicacy for centuries, sharks would only swim in the oceans and not soup, if state has anything to do with it.
Fong (D-Mountain View) and Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) figuratively jumped into shark-infested waters when they introduced Assembly Bill 376, aimed at making it illegal to possess, sell, trade or distribute shark fins in California. They made the announcement at a press conference earlier this month at the San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences.
“Current laws that ban the practice of shark finning are insufficient when we have species of sharks depleted up to 90 percent,” Fong said, in a statement. “The demand for shark fin is growing, and the worldwide shark population is depleting to extinction rates. I say it is time to remove shark fin from the menu.”
And that has gotten the attention of many Chinese restaurants, including in Milpitas.
To take shark fin off the menu would be similar to banning caviar in Western restaurants, said David Hung, manager of .
It's an ingredient that symbolizes wealth and status, he said, and it's commonly featured on the wedding banquet menu in multiple dishes, as a soup or inside other dishes.
Customers here can find a whole menu page of dishes featuring shark fin. An order of the traditional braised superior sharks fin soup costs $40 and offers high-quality shark fin. A cheaper version, with shark fin and paired with crab meat, is $16, enough for two people.
At Mayflower, the cheapest menu for a banquet table of 10 is $218, with no shark fin. Once you add the shark fin, abalone and swallow's nest, the price can go up to $680.
But what makes Hung uncomfortable is the loss of a traditional delicacy that has gone on for centuries. He has worked in the hotel and restaurant business for three decades in Hong Kong, China and Milpitas, and quite familiar with shark fin's caviar-like status in Chinese circles.
The focus should be on regulating the fishermen at sea, he said, not on controlling the eating habits of Chinese in the state.
Assemblyman Leland Lee (D-San Francisco) agrees with Hung.
In a statement, Yee said the bill "is the wrong approach and an unfair attack on Asian culture and cuisine."
Fong, a native of China, quickly dismissed the cultural argument. He said the legislation has been motivated by the practice of "shark-finning," in which sharks of any species are caught, their marketable fins cut off and the less-valued remains of the still-living fish discarded.
In Mountain View, at the at 2650 W. El Camino Real, Barry Luu, a waiter at Hong Kong, said that if shark fins were banned, people would get used to it.
"Many people in China are heavy smokers, and restaurant owners at the beginning thought that if there was no smoking in restaurants, they could lose business," said Liu.
He describes shark fin as tasteless, chewy and gummy. What people really enjoyed, he said, was the soup. "Now everyone is under the law, and so no one complains."
At Hong Kong Restaurant, shark fin soup as an appetizer costs $25.50 per person and as high as $308 for a table of 10. At Fu Lam Mum, an individual serving costs $38, a whole rack of shark fin costs $180, and for a table of 10, the cheapest price for a wedding banquet is $438.
A spokesman for the Monterey Bay Aquarium—one of numerous oceanic environmental organizations to support the bill—said the overfishing of sharks to supply the market for their fins is the primary cause of their depopulation.
"It's pretty indiscriminate," spokesman Ken Peterson said. "The idea is to take the market out of fins all together, giving shark populations a chance to recover."
According to a statement released by Fong's office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in 2005 that two of the top entry points for shark fins in the U.S. are San Diego and Los Angeles. Fong want to also remind consumers that shark fins have high mercury levels and that the FDA warns shark fins could be dangerous to consumers’ health
"This is not an attack on the culture; this is an attack on the practice," he said.
But time could be running out for Chinese restaurants across the state. An area in Hawaii implemented the ban on shark fins last summer.
—Additional reporting by Bay City News Service.