Every once in a while an issue comes along that unites everyone around a common goal. This year, that issue was the protection of sharks, and the goal was to end the shark fin trade here in California.
We accomplished that goal October 7, 2011 when California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 376 into law, prohibiting the sale, trade, distribution and possession of shark fins within the state.
A Group Effort
By the time of the Governor’s signature, tens of thousands of Californians had gotten involved in the effort. Dozens of environmental non-profits, Asian-American organizations, animal welfare groups, and aquariums campaigned for the bill, joined by community groups, chefs, celebrities, and policymakers. Leonardo DiCaprio sent letters of support; scientists from all over the world helped with research papers and offers to field questions from the Governor’s office; and elementary school groups in California created websites, organized petitions and letter-writing campaigns and even visited Senate offices at the Capitol! Groups organized rallies and shark-lovers events around the state and editorials boards published stories in every major newspaper in California. Over a hundred thousand individuals sent e-mails, “Tweeted” or posted actions on their Facebook page, and made phone calls to their Assemblymember, Senator and the Governor. People of all walks of life, from architects to yoga instructors, took action for sharks and urged the Governor to sign AB 376.
All Hands On
Here at the Monterey Bay Aquarium our entire staff got involved. Volunteers talked about the bill with visitors; our exhibits team printed banners and constructed an inflatable finless shark for outreach events; and our auditorium programs included calls to action and updates on major milestones—often earning loud applause from the audience! Public relations managed media; membership sent out action alerts; Seafood Watch recruited chefs and advocates; and our policy staff coordinated the campaign, wrote letters, testified in Sacramento and advocated for sharks at every opportunity.
It’s often said that one person can make a difference, and the campaign for AB 376 is a prime example. At so many steps along the way, the balance was shifted due to the voices of only a handful of people. At one point a Sacramento colleague indicated to us that she was 52 percent to 48 percent sure the Governor would sign our bill—that’s a close call and a decision that could have easily been swayed either way by a single phone call, email, or letter to the Governor.
Indeed the global movement to end the shark fin trade began with a small group of people urging an end to the sale of shark fins in Hawaii, and that single action encouraged other individuals and groups to pursue similar efforts in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and then the states of Washington, Oregon and now California. With AB 376 California has now made the ban on shark fins complete along the U.S. West Coast and accelerated the global movement to end this destructive trade. Because of California’s action, we are one step closer to ending the shark fin trade where it is most prevalent, in China and Hong Kong. And with individuals like those who tirelessly took action for AB 376 I’m sure we can get there.
A Better Future for Sharks
AB 376 will go into effect on January 1, 2012, after which no new fins will be allowed into the state; restaurants and shops will have until July 2013 to use up existing stock of fins, and after that, the trade in shark fins in California will be completely banned.
Sharks and the ocean will be healthier due AB 376 and the actions of California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the efforts of all the groups and individuals that made this possible.
Our thanks to everyone out there who took action to protect sharks!