Shark Fin Banned In New York State

Shark soup is finished in New York, as Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Friday banning the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins in the entire state of New York. The law will take effect on July 1, 2014.

The banning of shark fin soup will have an effect on New York's Chinatown, as shark fin soup is an extremely high-end delicacy in Chinese cuisine and a frequent centerpiece at banquets. However, several restaurateurs said they had already begun phasing out the polarizing soup before the law went into effect.

"We don't use very much shark fin right now," said Tony Chen manager of Grand Harmony Palace, to USA Today. "Not that many people ask for it."

At Ping's Seafood, waiter Ricky Tsoi said they had stopped serving shark fin soup in May, though he said customers still ask for it sometimes.

Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year to meet demand for shark fin soup, though exact numbers are difficult to come by as much of the shark fin trade is not closely tracked. The most controversial part of the practice is called "finning," where the sharks are pulled from the water and their fins cut off. Then the mutilated sharks are thrown back in the water to die slowly.

"Not only is the process inhumane, but it also affects the natural balance of the oceanic ecosystem," Cuomo said.

Several U.S. states have already banned the trade of shark fins, including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington.

Ninety-five percent of the annual shark fin harvest is consumed China, though it's not without its detractors there. Last July the government announced that it would be banning shark fin soup at official banquets. And National People's Congress deputy Guo Guangchang told the Global Times, a state-run paper, that he was in favor of the ban because the shark trade was ecologically unsound and he thought the soup was actually potentially harmful to human health.

"It's difficult for the human body to absorb the nutrients in shark fin, plus there are excessive levels of lead and mercury in it," he said. Shark fins have been linked to neurotoxins that can cause Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other neurodegenerative diseases.