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Story by Oregon State Media, Inc.
Published on Saturday April 30, 2011 - 1:23 PM
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SALEM, Oregon - The Oregon House on Friday unanimously passed a bill that would ban the sale of shark fins used in a traditional Chinese soup.

"The trade is, as yet, quite small in Oregon," the bill's chief sponsor, Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, said in a statement. "But with shark fin soup commanding prices that approach $200 a bowl in major cities around the world, it is important that our state join West Coast and international efforts intended to shut down the commercial trading of shark fins."

House Bill 2838 now goes to the Senate. The bill prohibits the possession and distribution of shark fins and carries a fine of up to $720 for violations. It makes an exception for spiny dogfish, a small shark that accounts for 300,000 pounds in landings by commercial fishermen each year. Sport fishermen with a valid license are not affected.

About 150 sharks are caught each year off Oregon, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The soup, which has a subtle flavor and gelatinous consistency, is served during Chinese dinners and banquets to convey affluence, similar to caviar. The fins are cut in narrow slices and give the soup texture. The fins sell for $299 to $699 a pound at a Chinese market in Los Angeles.

Hawaii has already adopted a ban. A similar ban in Washington state is awaiting the governor's signature and another in California is pending in the Legislature. Federal law requires that sharks taken in U.S. waters be brought to shore whole but does not deal with the sale of shark fins.

Whit Sheard of the marine conservation group Oceana said that winning a ban in Oregon and other West Coast states is part of a campaign to build international support for protecting the tens of millions of sharks killed each year for soup, most of which is consumed in Asia.

"It's fantastic that in times like we are in now, something like this can get such enormous bipartisan support," he said.

Fishermen cut the fins from sharks, then throw them alive back in the ocean, where they starve to death or suffocate because they can no longer swim, conservation groups say.

During hearings on the bill, Witt and other supporters decried the practice as barbaric and condemned the idea of letting the rest of the shark carcass go to waste.

Environmentalists warn that sharks are slow to reproduce, serve a key function as a top predator in ocean ecosystems, and their survival is threatened by the demand for their fins, which is likely to grow as the Chinese economy continues to improve.