Saturday, December 17, 2011

A lot can happen in ten years . . . .

My goodness... how time flies. There are a number of different important dates for an organization. There's the date of incorporation, the date that it is first formed, and, of course, there's the date when the idea first comes to mind. It was ten years ago today that COARE was conceived, as a result of a life changing experience.

When people find out that I founded this organization, they often ask about my inspiration, and what led me to create COARE. I happily tell the story, although sometimes in an abbreviated format, and more often than not, the person will say something along the lines of, "wow, you've got to write that down!"

Eventually, a "history" section will appear on the COARE website, but in the meantime, I thought a tenth anniversary might be a good occasion to honor the foundation of the path that led us to where we are today.

Ten years ago, Howard and Michele Hall were in Fiji finishing up their work on the IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure. A dear friend alerted me to the production, and also let me know that Howard and Michele would be doing some planned shark dives from the main island.  They had recently acquired a high definition camera, had built a custom housing for the beast, and were planning to replace some of their standard definition library footage of sharks with new high definition material.

Encouraged by my friend's recommendation to visit Fiji, and the opportunity to blow bubbles alongside two of my underwater heroes, I made arrangements to join them on that trip.

divers watching on as we film
Photo ©2001 Christopher Chin
Fast forward... to Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. I met Howard and Michele on board Aqua Trek's boat. We shuttled out to Beqa Passage, where the excitement would begin. The site was set up with a viewing area for customers at a depth of approximately 20 meters. From there, the bottom gently sloped down to a theater-like plateau at approximately 32 meters. This is where Howard, Michele, and I eventually found ourselves surrounded by sharks.

Howard Hall heading down to the shark "theater"
Photo ©2001 Christopher Chin

We did several dives at this location, and we estimated that we had twelve or more species of sharks swimming around us, including a great number of bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and a very large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). The star of the show was the tiger shark, and she was magnificent – graceful, powerful, and impressive. While I was amazed by my first tiger shark, it was the second day of filming, and another species, that would hold great meaning for COARE.

We were down in the "theater" again, with the big fish all around us once more, with some of the more curious sharks just an arm or camera length away. I began to recognize some of the individual animals by their behavior and swimming style, and then it happened: as one particular bull shark began to swim by, she looked me dead in the eye... and held the gaze. We locked eyes for eight or more seconds as she made a slow semicircle, and I was in absolute awe. Even people don't maintain eye-contact that well!  If you think that eight seconds does not seem like very long, try counting to yourself next time you make eye contact with someone and see how long you can hold it.

One of the bull sharks that changed my life
Photo ©2001 Christopher Chin

In that moment, I realized this shark was a sentient being. It wasn't just a primitive fish mindlessly fulfilling its biological needs; she was a sentient being trying to figure out who the heck I was and what I was doing there.   My whole world changed in that moment, and it occurred to me – I had been diving with sharks for years and had never realized what I did that day.... and if *I* didn't know this, what about the other people on the boat or other divers?  What about people that have never even been to the ocean?  They have no idea.  I'd just had this amazing epiphany, and felt compelled to share it.  I knew that sharks were in trouble (but didn't fully realize the extent of their plight at that point), and that they were maligned and suffered from a bad reputation.  People needed to know just how special sharks are, and that they need our protection.

I surfaced and handed my camera up to the boat crew, and as I climbed on board, I decided that I needed to do something; I needed to make a difference.

early COARE logo, circa 2006
It took a few years of reflection, research, and thought-provoking conversations to figure out what to do, how to do it, and what needs an organization should fill and what role it should play. With the help of my dear friends Linden Wolbert and Nico Danan, we chose the name, and developed the mission and vision, and in May of 2006, COARE was born.

COARE was incorporated the following February, and we've done some amazing things these last five years.

COARE's table at BLUE 2010
Photo ©2010 Christopher Chin
Michele Hall, Howard Hall, and Christopher Chin at BLUE 2010
Photo courtesy Prof. Chris Kitting, Cal State U East Bay

Over the years, I would see Howard and Michele in passing at different events, but it wasn't until the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit of 2010 that I finally shared that story with the Halls. COARE had a presence in the sponsorship hall, and as I showed them our table, I explained quickly some of our programs, and then revealed how they were a part of this – how they were there for the original spark that became The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education.

 - Christopher Chin
   Executive Director and Founder

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Open Letter to Toby Keith and His Disposable Red Cup

This is a cross-post from the Save Our Shores blog, Into the Blue.

Dear Mr. Keith,

When I first heard your new song, “Red Solo Cup”, I thought it couldn’t possibly be real, but I was unfortunately mistaken. I understand that it’s supposed to be funny; I get where you were trying to go with it (an ode to your favorite beer receptacle), I really do. That said, there are so many things wrong with this song, I’m having a hard time deciding where to begin. I would like to preface this letter by saying I like beer and fun maybe even as much as you do, but in spite of my affinity for a good time, I still have some issues with this song that I’m not able to excuse right off the bat.

As someone who spends quite a lot of time picking up trash at the beaches and has seen firsthand the damage single-use items can cause, I have to object to your love affair with plastic.

Plastic, even in the form of a beer-holding receptacle, is NOT your friend (although the plastic industry may like you to think it is). It’s not friends with the ocean, either, or with wildlife. Contrary to your lyrics, red solo cups are not decomposable in 14 years (in fact, they can take hundreds of years to decompose completely). Plastic never goes away; it only breaks down into smaller pieces that absorb toxic chemicals, are ingested by wildlife, and enter the food chain (ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, anyone?).

And I’m guessing you also didn’t know that the state of California alone spends around $72 million per year to collect and dispose of one-time use disposable cups (*ahem*, red solo cups) and bags? I know that political correctness isn’t exactly your thing, Mr. Keith, but I sincerely hope you weren't aware of these facts when you wrote this song. After all, I can’t imagine that you would encourage people to purchase and use items that will directly harm wildlife and the health of our environment… Just check out the stomach contents of this bird that died after consuming tiny pieces of plastic that came from sources like your red solo cup.

Although I know it wasn't your intent to promote unnecessary plastic use at the expense of the oceans, that’s exactly what you've ended up doing. I think we’d both agree that you’re no expert on the decomposition rates of plastic, but your fans are still going to take your word for it.

I’m trying not to think about how many Toby Keith fans are going to think of your song the next time they go shopping for their “beer receptacles”… but since your video is averaging around 100,000 views a day on YouTube, the number is going to be very high (and I mean panic-attack inducing high). Your song, which was intended to be fun and silly, has potentially influenced people to make a harmful and dangerous choice.

I would like to humbly suggest that in the future, you be aware of the far-reaching (and unintentional) effects that your lyrics can have. Your fame gives you a unique responsibility (and opportunity!) to have a wide-reaching influence. By doing just a little more research and being a tiny bit more attentive to the message you’re sending, a song like this could end up sending a positive message about using less plastic while still shining a spotlight on your fun-loving side; the proverbial “kill-two-birds-with-one-stone,” if you will. I mean, red solo cups aren’t even all that great! Reusable cups are way, way better (and they even come in red)!

I hope you will join me in reducing plastic use by becoming a part of the solution!

Sara Cannon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Toronto fin ban - aiming for a K.O. in the T.O.

Earlier this month, with Governor Jerry Brown's signature, California enacted Assembly Bill (AB) 376 banning the sale, trade, possession, and distribution of shark fins. In so doing, California became the fourth and largest state in the U.S. to enact a legislative ban on shark fins.

While we're celebrating the victory for sharks here in California, we're also supporting the effort in Canada's largest city – Toronto.

After a disappointing and discouraging report from Toronto's Municipal Licensing and Standards Division, I decided to attend the next City Council Licensing and Standards Committee meeting where they would be reviewing and considering the implication of that flawed report.

To that meeting last Thursday (13 October), I brought several perspectives, including that of someone who grew up with shark fin soup, and that of someone intimately involved in the legislative processes of several States "south of the border", as they put it. We saw a number of similarities between the shark fin ban in California, and the one proposed for the City of Toronto.

    Christopher Chin and esteemed municipal attorney Geoge Rust-D'Eye
before the City Council's Licensing and Standards Committee
(photo: Laura Bombier)

COARE's Executive Director offering testimony/deputation in support of shark fin ban
(photo: Florentine Leloup, ©2011 Vision'R)

Since there were so many speakers/deputants interested in addressing the committee, speaking times were limited to three minutes. However, because of the great interest in my perspective and COARE's experience in the western U.S., many of the committee members and guest Councillors posed questions. All in all, my three minutes turned into well over twenty – much more than any other speaker enjoyed.

mredia statements following deputation
(photo: Laura Bombier)

In the end, the committee voted unanimously to continue the process and recommend the ban to the full City Council. We are extremely pleased by the strong message that this vote sends.

The City Council will consider this issue this Monday, 24 October 2011. While we are optimistic that this will see favor in the full Council (especially in light of such a strong committee recommendation), it's still important that we reach out to the Mayor and Council members to encourage them to support the measure as well.

If you live in the GTA, and especially if you live in Toronto proper, please be sure to contact the Mayor and the City Council. At a minimum, you should contact the Mayor and the Councillor for your ward.

You can find the full list of Councillors here, but for your convenience, we'll include the list of (most of their) e-mail addresses here:

Please also consider sending a note to the following Councillors who supported the motion at the Licensing and Standards Committee meeting:

Michelle Berardinetti
(Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest)

Glenn De Baeremaeker
(Ward 38 Scarborough Centre)

Chin Lee
(Ward 41 Scarborough-Rouge River)

Gloria Lindsay Luby
(Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre)

Frances Nunziata
(Ward 11 York South-Weston)

Cesar Palacio
(Ward 17 Davenport)

Anthony Perruzza
(Ward 8 York West)

Kristyn Wong-Tam
(Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale)

Your message to the Mayor or your Councillor need not be detailed; simply include your name and address (so they know you're one of their voters), and indicate that you want him/her to support the shark fin ban. Use your own words, or feel free to draw from this sample message text.

Remember, your two minutes can help save millions of sharks!

Lend a hand to save some fins!℠

 - Christopher Chin
   Executive Director

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tradition, culture, and common sense

(This blog posting, in addition to representing the opinion of the organization, will also benefit from and draw upon the author's experience and perspective as a member of the Chinese-American community.)

Tradition... that word has been tossed around quite a bit lately. It has been used as a crutch, it has been used as an excuse, it has been used as justification, but most disturbingly, it has been used a a distraction and diversion.

Using the term in its real sense though, traditionally, Chinese people do not like to waste, and they especially do not waste when it comes to food. Anyone who has been to dim sum can attest to this. We offer things like tripe, pigs' knuckles, and chicken feet. Nothing is wasted. Absolutely nothing.

This is what makes the "tradition" argument in support of shark fin soup so ludicrous. The demand for shark fin drives the practice of shark finning, which is arguably one of the most wasteful practices in which mankind has ever engaged.

The irony slapped me in the face at a recent event held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in celebration of sharks. Those of you familiar with COARE's tabling efforts know that we often offer gummi sharks as a treat for those who stop by and engage in conversation with us about shark conservation. Since we were running low on supplies, one of our volunteers, Jilian, offered to procure additional gummis to replenish our "shark bowl".

She returned with plenty of gummi sharks, but also brought back a small selection of other gummi shapes, including gummi worms, cola bottles, raspberries, and chicken feet. Yes, you read that correctly – gummi chicken feet.

gummi chicken foot gracing our newsletter signup form
photo ©2011 Christopher Chin

Earlier that morning, we were discussing distinctive chinese cuisine, (i.e., the "weird stuff" we eat), and how Chinese are, culturally, practically, and anecdotally, not wasteful. The aforementioned dim sum offerings entered the discussion that morning, so when Jilian discovered the chicken feet, she could not help but to buy a few to bring back. The fact that the chicken feet are so celebrated that they deserve their own gummi shape is very telling. . .  and that is what prompted me to write this blog.

We already covered most of the relevant issues regarding California's proposed shark fin ban (and dispelled opposition arguments) in a previous blog, and still feel strongly about all of those points.

In that previous blog, I spoke of the two basic positions: people who understand the issues and support the bill, and those who do not yet understand the facts, the situation, or the consequences of shark fin soup. Basically, people who support the ban of shark fins, and people who do not YET support the ban of shark fins. It really is a "no-brainer" decision. I alluded to a third position – those who have a financial interest in the short-term slaughter of sharks and choose personal financial gain despite the societal and environmental costs In closing that blog posting I chose to remain optimistic in humanity indicated I would continue to lump that third category in with the second, considering them misinformed or misguided.

It's become more apparent, with this fight, that greed and special interests play a larger role. Hiring two of the most high powered and influential lobby firms in the State to kill the shark fin bill is certainly not the work of mom-and-pop restaurants or concerned citizens; clearly, much is at stake for those profiteering from what amounts to the trade of endangered (and near endangered) species.

What is particularly offensive to me, both as Chinese-American and as a reasonable person, is the use of cultural sensitivity as a distraction, and the use of fear as a tool to incite people towards opposition. Fear is a powerful tool and has been used for political, personal, and financial gain by infamous figures throughout history. Whether it's fear of economic collapse, xenophobia, or political or cultural oppression, fear has been used to rile and beguile unwary citizens into tacit and active participation in some of the most horrific campaigns in history, including widespread genocide. By suggesting to people (in this case, Chinese-Americans) that they are the target of a racial affront, it's natural that they will want to react negatively. This exploitation of fear is truly the only reason why some otherwise uninformed Chinese-Americans choose to oppose this measure.

In reality, 70% of Chinese-Americans in California support a legislative ban on shark fins, according to a poll conducted by Fairbanks Maslin and commissioned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.... and that poll was conducted before AB 376 was even introduced. Now that people know more about this bill, and now that even more people are aware of the issues surrounding the shark fin trade, that number would most certainly be higher.

As far as the discrimination argument is concerned, common sense reflects the legal definition of discrimination, particularly with regard to law and established practice. AB 376 is not discriminatory because it does not affect Chinese or Chinese-Americans as a class. AB 376 merely asks to prohibit the trade and consumption of a luxury product. The fact that more Chinese-Americans consume shark fin than other ethnicities does not give a delicacy protected status. Moreover, only some Chinese-Americans consume shark fin, not the average Chinese-American, and certainly not on a regular basis.

Prominent Chinese-American and Asian-American civil rights leaders also support the ban, and actually find offensive the use of cultural discrimination as an argument in opposition; if anything doing so trivializes civil rights matters of real significance, and "crying wolf" is not a game to play with civil rights.

This is a really simple matter, and the vote truly is a "no-brainer", but special interests and powerful lobby firms are attempting to sway our lawmakers. What helps make a difference for legislators is hearing from their constituents.

If you live in California, please be sure to call your State Senator and let them know how you feel. It will take you less than ONE MINUTE, quite literally, and will make a tremendous difference. For detailed and easy-to-follow instructions and to look up your Senator, visit our previous blog posting:

 - Christopher Chin
   Executive Director
   info [at]

(If you're visiting this blog well after it was published, perhaps the Senate vote has already taken place. You can visit this page for status.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Calling all Californians - it's time to save some sharks!

Last week, the California State Senate Committee on Appropriations voted (5-2) to pass Assembly Bill (AB) 376 to the Senate floor.

You've all waited patiently (and some of you have helped) as we've battled through the State Assembly, and in the policy and fiscal committees of both Houses. . . . but now we're in our final stretch and VERY MUCH need your help.

The full Senate will be voting on this matter soon, and we need every Californian to contact his/her Senator to urge support for this matter.

California State Capitol in Sacramento

If you're looking for talking points, watch this space; we'll post comprehensive arguments in the next day or so.  These will be useful for anyone desiring to write articles, for those taking interviews on the matter, or anyone who may be meeting with legislative offices for more in-depth discussions.

However, you don't need any of that for this push, and you don't need any of that to help!

Making a difference is easy!  You don't need to know details, and it doesn't take much.

If you are a California resident, take your hands from the keyboard, and pick up the phone.

Step away from the keyboard.  Really.  Signing petitions may feel good (and may certainly help in the beginning stages of legislative efforts), but what really makes a difference is individual and personal contact with your legislator's office.  You may send a letter of support if you feel your position or status is influential, but it's probably simplest just to call.  Just a simple phone call that only takes two minutes.  You can spare two minutes to save sharks and save the ocean, can't you?

Your two minutes can (quite literally) help save millions of sharks!

If you don't already know who your legislative representatives are, you may use this form to look them up.

Simply call and emphasize that, as one of his/her voters, you want him/her to support AB376.

Not sure what to say?   It's simple.   Just follow these suggestions; you won't need to go into great detail when you call.

When you call, an office staff member will answer.

Simply say:
    "I am a member of your district and I urge you to support A.B. 376, the bill to ban shark fins in California." 

That's it!   You've helped!

Now, please pass this page on to other friends who also live in California.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lend a hand to save some fins!

COARE's Executive Director
speaking in favor of AB 376
As most of you assuredly know, COARE has been very involved in recent legislative efforts to ban the sale, trade, possession, and distribution of shark fins in several places.

As reported in our last newsletter, California's Assembly Bill (AB) 376 has passed the Assembly and is now in the State Senate.  We'll save the details for an upcoming newsletter, but it is now facing a very tough battle in the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

The opposition to AB 376 (shark fin traders) have hired two high powered lobbying firms to help kill the bill.  With the help of these lobby firms, the opposition has begun an effective campaign of mistruths and deceptive messaging, all designed to detract from the matter at hand – that our sharks are in terrible danger, and that by banning the trade of shark fins, we can do something to help.

The opposition has even gone as far as to claim that shark populations are fine and that sharks are not endangered.  They have also testified that shark fins sales and the act of finning is not responsible for the bulk of shark fishing.

Unfortunately, they're doing a good job of misleading some of the Senators, and we need to show our support.  If the bill does not pass this Senate policy committee, it will die.  That's obscene considering the reality – the situation with shark populations worldwide being decimated to satisfy the desire for a delicacy, and the fact that we have a simple path to reduce that demand – but it's a very real possibility, that this bill will not continue to be considered if we are not able to help some of our Senators see the truth.

This following applies mostly to California Residents, but we're appealing to all our readers in the hopes that you can all reach out to your California friends and relatives, and that you can repost this  blog and the following URL to your social networks.

California State Capitol Building

The bill will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources Committee THIS COMING TUESDAY, 28 June 2011, and we are asking that you help us show support by calling the Senators on the committee (if you are one of their constituents) on MONDAY, 27 June.

Your TWO minutes can help save MILLIONS of sharks.

Here are the Committee members who could use persuading:

  • Senator Fran Pavley, (Los Angeles, Ventura), 916-651-4023
  • Senator Doug LaMalfa, (Butte, Colusa, Del norte, Glenn, Nevada, Placer, Shasta, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Yuba), 916-651-4004
  • Senator Anthony Cannella, (Madera, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, Stanislaus),916-651-4012
  • Senator Jean Fuller, (Inyo, Kern, San Bernardino, Tulare), 916-651-4018
  • Senator Alex Padilla, (Los Angeles), 916-651-4020
  • Senator Lois Wolk, (Davis, Fairfield, Manteca, Stockton, Tracy, Vacaville, West Sacramento), 916-651-4005

A few members made very positive and supporting comments during the June 14th hearing.
If any of the following are your Senators, please consider calling them and thanking them for their support:

  • Senator Noreen Evans, (Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Solano, Sonoma), 916-651-4002
  • Senator Christine Kehoe, (San Diego), 916-651-4039
  • Senator Joe Simitian, (San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz), 916-651-4011

If you're not sure who your Senator is, you can use this form to find out.

If you or anyone you know resides in these areas, please visit: for more information, and pass this along as appropriate.

You won't need to go into great detail when you call.
When you call, an office staff member will answer.

Simply say:
    "I am a member of your district and I urge you to support A.B. 376, the bill to ban shark fins in California." 

That's it!  You've helped.

We need you to call by 4pm PT on Monday (27 June) because the committee will vote on Tuesday morning.

To make the matter seem like it affects more people than it does, the opposition has taken to bussing in "concerned citizens", who are mostly retired or unemployed older folks lured into the mix by the offer of a free meal.  For those not familiar with Chinese culture, getting something for free or striking a good "deal" is akin to finding money in an old coat pocket.  Actually, it's better; the money in that coat pocket was yours to begin with, whereas the free meal is like winning the lottery.

We're hoping to offset some of the protesters that will be bussed in for Tuesday's Senate Committee Hearing by rallying some of you.  If any of you are in the area, we encourage you to join us.  Our colleagues at Sea Stewards have arranged a bus from Marin and Richmond, and lunch will be provided.  (Yes, you too will get a free lunch.)  The bus will leaves the Golden Gate Ferry Terminal at Larkspur Landing at 06:30 and will then head over the Richmond San Rafael Bridge to Richmond BART for a pick up at 07:00... then off to Sacramento.  Lunch will be provided, and we should have you all back in the Bay Area by 2pm.

Please contact Christopher at 510-495-7875 or info [at] for more information or to reserve a spot on the bus.

For those near Sacramento or who are traveling separately, the Committee Meeting will begin at 09:30am on Tuesday, 28 June, in Senate Room 112.  We recommend you arrive early, so that you can get a seat ahead of all the opposition.

Thank you once again for your support!
 - Christopher Chin
   Executive Director

Thursday, May 19, 2011

To ban or not to ban, that is the question . . .

The fact that many shark populations are in sharp decline is probably no surprise to most ocean advocates.  Luckily, this fact is also becoming more widely understood in mainstream circles; however, because of the urgency of this matter, this message needs to promulgate even more rapidly than it already is.

Sharks are one of our oceans' top predators, keeping the entire ecosystem in check.  They are an essential component of the foodweb, and are vital to the health of our oceans.  Studies have shown that reduction in one species causes effects on other species, and sometimes these effects are unexpected and detrimental to local and regional economies.

Animals at the top of the food chain, such as sharks, have few natural predators, are slow to mature, and have very few young. Some sharks take up to 25 years to reach sexual maturity, have a long gestation period (upwards of a year), and only have a few offspring in the end.  As a result, they are extremely sensitive to fishing pressures, and are slow to recover from overfishing.  Many shark species have declined in population by more than 90% in the last 50 years.  Some species may have declined by as much as 97-99% in the last 35 years.  In other words, as few as 1 out of 100 may be left of some species.  Does that register yet?

Dried Shark Fin
Photo courtesy Stephen Loewinsohn
Sharks are often caught accidentally (called bycatch) but sadly, they are also sometimes targeted intentionally by fishermen for their fins.  Shark fins are highly valuable and can fetch $600 a pound or more in the shark fin trade.  The demand for shark fin drives almost all shark deaths, and because of the relatively worthlessness of the meat, the abominable practice of "finning" occurs to save valuable space on the boat for more profitable profitable catch.  After their fins are cut off, sharks are often thrown back into the water where, unable to swim and bleeding to death, they suffer a slow and torturous death.

Anyone who has seen videos or photos of shark finning knows that it is an absolutely cruel and horrific practice.  Not only is it barbaric, but it is terribly unsustainable, and nations all around the world have banned shark finning, and some have even banned shark fishing entirely.

shark finning
©2007 Fiona Ayerst, Marine Photobank
However, that is not enough.  Sharks are still being taken and are still being finned – even in world heritage sites, in marine sanctuaries, and in shark sanctuaries.

Fishing regulations and marine protected areas are extremely important, but when there is enough demand, poachers will exploit loopholes and remote locations with equal fervor.

For situations like this, trade bans work well to end demand for rare, exotic, or luxury items like ivory and shark fins.

In January 2010, Hawai'an State Senator Clayton Hee blazed a new path by introducing SB 2169, a bill proposing a ban on the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins in the State of Hawai'i.  As the first of its kind, it's understandable that the bill would see a myriad of proposed amendments, and the bill underwent many revisions along the way.  However, in the end, SB 2169 received overwhelming support, passing unanimously in the Senate (25-0) and receiving only one single vote of opposition (50-1) in the House of Representatives, from Representative Jon Riki Karamatsu.  Interestingly enough Karamatsu voted in favor of the original bill prior to its amendments, so presumably he was simply uncomfortable with the revisions.  The Bill was signed into law on 28 May 2010 by Governor Linda Lingle.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was the next to take up the battle with House Bill 17-94.  The Bill passed unanimously in both houses (House: 17-0; Senate: 8-0), and was signed into law on 27 January 2011.

Guam's Legislature passed its version of the ban with Bill 44-31, voting unanimously (15-0).  Governor Eddie Calvo signed that bill into law on 09 March 2011.

Stateside, Washington Senate Bill SB 5688 blazed through both houses, with the Senate's unanimous support (47-0), and near unanimity in the House with an overwhelmingly positive vote (95-1).  The sole Nay vote was cast by Brad Klippert, who explained to me that he voted against this bill in an attempt to express his interest in protecting local salmon populations.  He felt that voting to protect sharks would be a vote against salmon, since some sharks do eat salmon.  I'll have another conversation with him soon, but I think he may have misunderstood the intention and scope of this bill.  In any event, Washington's legislation will become the first in the continental United States to ban shark fins, as Governor Chris Gregoire intends to sign that bill into law this Thursday!

Oregon's version of the Bill, HB 2838, recently enjoyed unanimous acceptance in its House of Representatives (44-0), and we're assured by the author's office that, if the members of the Ways and Means Committee were present, the roll would have reflected a 60-0 vote.

If we consider all of these votes, it is abundantly clear that there is overwhelming, and nearly unequivocal, support for and interest in banning shark fins.  In all the votes cast in all the States and Territories thus far, there were only two "No" votes, and neither was cast because they thought shark fin soup was a good idea.

So why is there resistance or controversy to ending shark fin sales in California?

Shark fins for sale in Oakland
Photo courtesy Stephen Loewinsohn

One might suggest that there are more substantial populations of Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Southern California.  Some people are resistant to change, and that is understandable.  However, we find that many people who like their shark fin soup simply do not know where it comes from, the impact it has on the environment, or the potentially harmful effects it might have on their health (thanks to methyl mercury and other accumulated toxins).  If more people understood these things, and the critical role that sharks play in the ocean, they would likely make the correct choice with little hesitation.

In fact, more people understand this issue than the opposition to AB 376 would like you to think.  Two weeks prior to the bill's introduction, a poll was conducted among a random sample of California voters to find out their thoughts about shark fins and the practice of shark finning.  The vast majority of voters (82 percent) expressed concern about the impact of shark finning.  Even more Chinese-American voters were concerned – 86 percent.  76 percent of all those surveyed, and 70 percent of the Chinese-Americans all supported a statewide ban on shark fins.  That's not to indicate that the remainder opposed a ban; among Chinese-Americans, only 18 percent of voters oppose the ban and 12 percent expressed no opinion.

API support and announcement of poll results
Photo courtesy Bill Wong
So, again, why so much resistance in California?  We might also consider that the bulk of U.S. shark fins imports pass through ports in Los Angeles and San Diego.  Perhaps the resistance is more likely financially motivated.  Those who sell and trade fins certainly have an investment to protect, and it is simpler to keep going about business as usual.  However, any choice to continue deriving profits from shark fins is short-sighted, as sharks protect and promote overall ocean health.  If sharks disappear, the scarcity of other seafood products will soon follow.

There are some interesting arguments in opposition to AB 376, and I would like to address each in turn.

Claim:  AB 376 is racially motivated, discriminates unfairly, or targets Chinese-Americans.

AB 376 author Paul Fong meeting with
prominent Chinese-American leaders
Photo courtesy Bill Wong
Truth:  AB 376 was authored by a Chinese-American, and enjoys the support of an overwhelming number of Chinese-American groups and individuals, including prominent elected officials and two of San Francisco's own mayoral candidates.  To claim this is racially motivated is absolutely preposterous.  While the bulk of shark fins in California may be consumed by Chinese-Americans, that is irrelevant.  Shark fins are simply a product that is decimating our shark populations and destroying our oceans.

Claim:  AB 376 fuels anti-immigrant or anti-minority sentiment.

Truth:  While Chinese-Americans consume more shark fin than other groups, asking them to stop is not discriminatory or defamatory to that, or any other group of minorities.  In fact, it gives people the opportunity to do the right thing.  This is a chance for Chinese-Americans to shine - to evolve beyond an outdated practice.  Just as footbinding and indentured servitude are no longer tolerated, shark fin soup should be similarly eschewed.  What may, however, inflame potential anti-minority sentiment, is a stubborn insistence on selfish adherence to a practice that is literally destroying the health of the ocean.  Continuing on a course of opposition to AB 376 simply makes the bill's opponents appear self-centered and opportunistic.

Claim:  AB 376 targets only fins, and doesn't address other shark products.

Paul Fong with AB 376 supporters
Photo courtesy Bill Wong
Truth:  This is true, but for good reason.  It is the demand for shark fins that is fueling the rampant destruction of shark populations.  Just as elephants were once hunted for their ivory tusks, sharks are often killled solely for their fins.  If sharks were targeted for their nictitating membranes, as an imaginary example, this bill, as well we all the aforementioned legislation, would be addressing shark eye parts instead.

Claim:  Banning shark fins will hurt small businesses.

Truth:  Shark fin soup is most often served in banquet settings and at official celebratory events like a Chinese wedding.  Smaller restaurants serve shark fin soup much less often than larger banquet halls do.  However, to compete with larger restaurants, small restaurants often feel obliged to offer shark fin soup just in case someone requests it, lest they lost potential customers.  Some restaurateurs would prefer, for philosophical or ethical reasons, not to be obligated to offer it, and some would simply prefer to avoid it since it is an expensive ingredient to stock for infrequent use.  In either case, we have had proprietors tell us "just make it illegal so we don't have to sell it."  AB 376 helps maintain a level playing field.

Claim:  AB 376 will hurt the economy and kill jobs.

Truth:  For those restaurants that serve it, shark fin soup is only one seldom ordered item on a menu with a plethora of other and more common choices.  Even at banquets and celebrations where the soup is featured, it is only a single serving among nine or ten courses.  End consumers and restaurants alike each purchase their fins from grocery stores, trading companies, and seafood suppliers which sell a myriad of other products; shark fins are far from their sole source of income.  Moreover, the fins sold in California markets and shops and the fins served in California restaurants do not come from sharks caught in California (or even U.S.) waters by California or U.S. fishermen; the sharks are captured and finned by vessels all around the world, and their fins are processed elsewhere before import to California.

Claim:  If imports are the problem, than we should just ban imports and allow shark fins obtained from domestic fisheries to be sold.

Truth:  If imports were to be banned, and only domestic shark catches were used as a source for fins, it could divert an extreme amount of pressure on local sharks to meet the demand of the shark fin trade.  According to the California Dept of Fish & Game, in 2009, less than 321,000 pounds of shark were landed commercially in California.  Since fins represent approximately 5% of a shark's body weight, that's not really a lot compared to the fin stocks you find on California shelves, let alone those that are passing through California ports on their way to other U.S. destinations.

Since locally caught supply would pale in comparison to the quantity seen in imports, the scarcity would provide disparity in the marketplace, and would likely drive prices up, further putting pressure on the local fisheries.  Such situations are fertile ground for black market dealings and increased systemic abuses.

Also, looking at past commercial efforts targeting shark species, one can't help but be reminded of the aptly-named soupfin shark.  Epitomizing the definition of UNsustainable, the fishery collapsed as the populations were quickly decimated.

That was nearly 70 years ago, and populations have still not yet recovered, and are still considered threatened.

Moreover, this solution is legally infeasible; federal law and international trade rules prevent California from banning shark fin imports.  Sharks around the world are in trouble as long as the shark fin trade is allowed to continue.

Claim:  We should allow fins to be taken from a sustainable shark fishery.

Truth:  The concept of sustainable shark fishing is an interesting one.  Certainly, landing sharks with fins naturally attached is more desirable than finning, but it's hard to qualify a fishery as sustainable when the animals in question take so long to reach maturity, reproduce so seldom, and have so few young when they do breed.  As such, they're inherently susceptible to overfishing, and nowhere is the world is there a shark fishery that's considered "sustainable."

Claim:  Shark fin bans are not necessary, since we already have the Federal Shark Conservation Act.

Truth:  While the Federal Shark Conservation Act prohibits the finning of sharks in U.S. waters, this only affects sharks caught in U.S. waters by appropriately registered vessels.  This is a wonderful piece of legislation and helps protect sharks in federal jurisdictions, but, unfortunately, this has little to do with the global fin trade.  As previously mentioned, the fins sold in California are culled from sharks caught in other fisheries, and are processed elsewhere before coming to the U.S. as an unidentifiable fin.

Since since such a large percentage of sharks are already considered endangered, and since the practice of finning is conducted without regard to species, age, or gender, it is no surprise that even endangered species are being slaughtered.  DNA sequencing of a recent sampling of fins for sale in San Francisco revealed that endangered species, such as the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), are represented on San Francisco shelves.  In fact, the random sampling of fins by the The California Academy of Sciences found that one-half of the sampled fins were from threatened species.

Claim:  California law already bans finning - we do not need additional laws.

Truth:  Yes, while finning is illegal in California and U.S. waters, these are not the fins that are being consumed.  Banning shark fins in California will literally help save sharks around the world.

Claim:  AB 376 is stringent and punitive; instead, the State should focus on education.

Truth:  Education and Awareness are both great.  COARE maintains both among its tenets... unfortunately, in this case education is simply not enough.  Relying solely on education as an approach to this problem is akin to suggesting that drugs don't have to be illegal; we could simply teach people not to use them.

Granted, younger generations are more aware of the plight of the ocean, but we cannot wait for the generational shift, and we must act now.  Many people are learning about sharks and this critical need for conservation as a result of this legislative effort.

Claim:  Most sharks are not threatened with extinction.

Truth:  It is easy to see how someone might make this claim, since "only" one third of all pelagic sharks are considered threatened with extinction.  Only?  First, the fact that one-third of the known shark species are considered threatened should give anyone pause.  That is not an insignificant number - especially when you take into consideration their crucial role in the ocean.  Additionally, that statistic should not be taken to suggest that the other two-thirds are abundant.  In fact, the IUCN considers an additional 25% of the pelagic sharks to be "data-deficient" – meaning that we do not have enough historical or current data to assess their populations.  Some of those populations may turn out to be fine, but some may also be critically endangered.

To use this argument as an excuse to brazenly continue fishing with impunity is not only short-sighted, but unconscionable.

Claim:  Don’t ban the shark fin trade -we should ban the killing of listed endangered sharks, but allow unlisted sharks to be killed for their fins.

Truth:  Strict laws already protect listed sharks, yet listed and unlisted sharks are still slaughtered for their high-priced fins and the current demand trajectory for fins puts both at risk.  It is impossible to identify whether a shark fin was removed from a listed or unlisted shark without costly and time-consuming DNA analysis conducted for each fin.  This is not feasible, making this proposal unenforceable.  Moreover, as previously noted, some sharks not yet listed as threatened may very well be in dangerous decline.

dried shark fins for sale
Photo ©2006 Christopher Chin

One of the best ways to begin protecting sharks is to stop shark finning, and the best possible solution to curb shark finning at this point is to stem the demand through legislative bans.

It comes down to this – there are two basic positions in this argument:  There are people who "get it" – people who understand how important sharks are, and see how the sale of shark fins as a luxury commodity item is fueling their demise.  Then there are people who simply don't yet understand the facts, the situation, or the consequences.  There is arguably a third position – those who have a financial interest in the short-term slaughter of sharks and choose personal financial gain despite the societal and environmental costs... but I prefer to believe in humanity and that people are good by nature.  For now, I'll continue to lump that third category in with the second, and optimistically consider them simply misinformed or misguided.

Where do you stand?

To learn more, and to get involved, please visit

Lend a hand to save some fins.

 - Christopher Chin
   Executive Director
   info [at]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Plastic-wrapped feet

It always warms my heart when I see people making use of reusable mugs and containers, and I'm also grateful when stores promote their use.  Those who have followed us for a while, or who know me personally, may know that I've had my share of arguments with some Starbuck's franchises about reusable mugs.  While that's a discussion worthy of its own rant blog, suffice it to say that I take issue when an establishment refuses to fill your reusable mug, but will happily sell you a new one of their own.

Speaking of Starbuck's, I was in New York City this past weekend for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society awards and presentations, and on my way back home, I noticed a lovely display of mugs at Starbuck's as I passed through Terminal 3 at the JFK airport yesterday.

Wall of mugs at JFK
Photo ©2011 Christopher Chin
"shrink your footprint"?
photo ©2011 Christopher Chin

When I was younger, my Crayola 64 box of crayons featured colors like burnt sienna and marigold.  Future versions of this iconic boxed palette may likely include something along the lines of "eco-green", so that young would-be designers would know what colors go best with a campaign intended to give the impression of environmental awareness.

I glanced towards the counter, a mere three feet from the wall of
plastic-wrapped toothpicks at restaurant in Las Vegas
Photo ©2010 Christopher Chin
mugs offering to "shrink your footprint", and I saw something I'd never before even imagined.  I was bewildered and looked more closely as I tried to comprehend the hypocrisy before me.

While I'll happily complain about plastic-wrapped straws, plastic-wrapped plastic utensils, or even individually wrapped toothpicks, I never thought I'd see apples choking beneath a layer of plastic film.

Starbuck's counter at JFK Terminal 3
Photo ©2011 Christopher Chin
As I stood in disbelief and wavered between stupefaction and anger, I wondered whose bright idea this was.  There was something inherently asinine about that, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it at first.  Eventually, I decided that it is because apples naturally have a resilient and washable skin.  Wrapping an apple in plastic wrap is just wasteful and silly.  It's akin to purchasing a reusable bag like the ChicoBag, and having the checkout clerk try to put it into a single-use plastic bag.  "Um... excuse me... I don't think I need a bag for my bag.  Thanks."

My best guess is that this Starbuck's somehow thinks that the apples may appear cleaner or more sanitary if they are wrapped in plastic.  I'm not sure about you, but I'm guessing that most people will probably still wash the apple after they unwrapped it.  They would probably at least take a napkin to it, or rub it on their shirt or pant leg.  Either of which is what most people do with apples that are not [gasp] wrapped in plastic.

If you buy one of those apples, I dare you to just unwrap it and eat it.  I'll bet that every intuition in your body will urge you to wash it before you sink your teeth into it.

plastic-wrapped apples
Photo ©2011 Christopher Chin
Better yet, just believe me and DON'T buy that stupid plastic-wrapped apple.  If someone is keeping track (as they probably are), then buying one of those things will validate their idiocy.  Vote with your wallet, send a message, and don't buy that plastic-wrapped apple.  If we exercise our choices this way, they'll see that the excessive waste actually causes a reduction sales.

But it's not just plastic-wrapped apples you need to keep an eye out for; we should be expressing our choices every time we purchase something.  If you have a choice between a simply presented item and a similar item which is overpackaged, we hope you'll send the right message by choosing to avoid the latter.

As for the Starbuck's at JFK, I just thought of another reason for the plastic wrap.... Perhaps they thought we could reduce our "footprint" by wrapping our feet in plastic.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Now that's a water fountain!

One of the keys to comfortable travel is to stay well hydrated. Most savvy travelers know this and drink plenty of water while on the road and inflight.

Since increased security measures have been put into place at most major airports around the world forbidding the transportation of outside liquids in aircraft cabins, most people have turned to bottled water, which they are forced to purchase after passing through airport security.

However, as I'm sure you're aware, anything purchased in the "sterile" (i.e., "secure") area of the airport is significantly more expensive than its pre-screened counterparts. A simple solution is to bring an empty reusable water bottle or reusable mug through security and then fill it on the other side. Sometimes, however, water fountains produce a only a mere trickle, and even when they're working at full pressure, the bottle must usually be held at a sub-optimal angle and can only be filled partially.

I've sometimes resorted to bringing my water bottle to the restroom to fill it in the sink. Ahhh... automatic faucets. One problem with automatic faucets, such as those commonly found in airport restrooms, is that they only produce one temperature of water. It's nice to have warm water to wash one's hands, but the idea of filling my bottle or mug with tepid water just doesn't appeal.

Global Tap fountain at SFO
Photo ©2011 Christopher Chin
If only there was a faucet-like fountain from which I could fill my water bottle or beverage container. . . .

Much to my surprise and excitement, I've found just the thing! Just the other day, as I was returning from the Dive and Travel Expo in Tacoma, I found a new Global Tap fountain in the International Terminal of San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Traveler refilling a plastic water bottle
Photo ©2011 Christopher Chin
What I especially like about this is that it promotes re-use. Even if you don't have an aluminum bottle or reusable mug, you can reuse almost any other container. Juice bottles, soft drinks, and even single-use water bottles can all be RE-used. Almost any container can be used to hold water.

In the few short minutes that I spent admiring the Global Tap fountain, three people made use of it, including one who refilled her Costco brand plastic water bottle.

Lindsay McMahon refilling her Sigg bottle
Photo ©2011 Christopher Chin

Yet another of those three, Lindsay McMahon, stopped to chat with me. She is a frequent traveler, and is proud that her Sigg bottle has been all around the world. She raised an interesting point during our conversation, and estimates that over the years she has saved thousands of dollars by reusing her water bottle instead of purchasing bottled water.

It's always nice when doing the right thing is easy on the wallet as well as the planet. So, save yourself a few dollars, save yourself some time, and forgo the single-use bottle.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Radioactive waste in the oceans is hardly a new threat

Since an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan and damaged two nuclear reactors,
Image via Flickr user karin.noso.
the world has been attempting to show support and condolences for a country that is very much in need. It’s almost a month later, and the death tolls continue to rise while the full extent of the damage is just being realized. Unfortunately, the news continues to get worse…. Recently, it was revealed that radiation from the nuclear plants had been leaking into the ocean (the leak has since been stopped), sparking fears of contaminated seafood and prompting the government of Japan to set limits, for the first time, on the amount of radiation permitted in fish.

While this is undeniably quite frightening, most people fail to realize that there is a similar threat located much closer to home — just 20 miles off the coast of San Francisco. The waters surrounding the Farallon Islands were used by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as a nuclear waste dump for almost 30 years. It is estimated that 47,500 55-gallon steel drums were dumped in the vicinity from 1946-1970, most of which have been sitting there for 50 years and are now corroding (and are therefore essentially a ticking radioactive time bomb).

If the idea of a huge nuclear waste dump just outside of one of the US’s major metropolises isn’t terrifying enough, consider this: the exact location of the drums is unknown. The environmental hazards associated with them are currently unknown. It is thought that it would be riskier and potentially more hazardous to remove them than to leave them undisturbed. According to an article in Mother Jones Magazine entitled You Are What You Eat: A Glowing Report on Radioactive Waste in the Sea, radiation was found in parts of edible fish from the Farallons at levels up to 5,000 times higher than background radiation (a level that includes natural radioactivity and the plutonium spewed into the environment from years of atmospheric testing of atomic weapons).

Image via Flickr user Panegyrics of Granovetter.
To add to that, the Farallons aren’t the only place in the U.S. where our oceans were used as radioactive waste sites: there are over 50 known ocean dumps, stretching down the east and west coasts of the United States, where radioactive trash was dumped from 1946-1970. The largest dumps are in the waters surrounding New York, Newark, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco – all of which are prime fishing areas that serve the top 20 cities in the country. Of course, dumping radioactive waste into the ocean wasn’t only a US pastime – European countries dumped just as much in the waters of the Atlantic.

It’s impossible to say which poses the more imminent threat to the ocean environment and the organisms that live in it — the nuclear disaster in Japan or the radioactive dumpsites in US waters — mostly because very few studies have ever been conducted to determine the extent of the danger of the radioactive dumpsites. In fact, the Mother Jones article previously mentioned goes on to point out that the EPA and the AEC have tried to keep the dumpsites hush-hush, and have actively kept any such investigation from happening. Only $250,000 has ever been spent studying the existing dumps since 1974, while $30 million has been given to scientists looking for a way to stash high-level waste beneath the ocean floor.

Clearly, the nuclear disaster in Japan is of the utmost importance at the moment, not only because of the radiation that’s been leaked into the surrounding environment, but for the millions of citizens of Japan who’s lives and health are currently being threatened. However, it is also important for everyone to at least be aware that radioactive waste in the oceans is not a new threat, by any means – it’s something our government exposed us to in the past, and has dodged any responsibility for ever since – and there is no evidence whatsoever that the contamination of seafood out of Japan right now is any worse than what we’ve already been exposed to by our own government.

Nuclear power has long been a source of controversy within the environmental movement, but in my opinion, its risks far outweigh its benefits. For more information on the dangers of nuclear power and radioactive waste, please check out the Nuclear Information and Research Service at their website:

Contact the author of this post at

This blog is cross-posted from the Rainforest Action Network's youth action blog, RYSE.