California wildlife officials say a sea food distributor in San Francisco has been cited for possessing more than 2,000 pounds of illegal shark fins - the largest bust of its kind since a statewide ban on selling the animal parts went into effect last July.
Authorities from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced on Friday that Michael Kwong, a fish vendor and outspoken opponent of the shark fin ban, was found with 2,138 pounds of shark fins inside his business. Despite the large number of fins, which officials say represents "probably thousands of sharks," the violation is considered just a misdemeanor.
If convicted, Kwong faces 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"A lot of people are wondering why we didn't take him to jail," Lt. Patrick Foy. "But it's still a misdemeanor level offense -- he just had an extremely large quantity, like nothing we had ever seen before."
The San Jose Mercury News reports that Kwong was well aware that selling shark fins is prohibited in the state; the distributor is a member of the Asian American Rights Committee of California which recently filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, though it was ultimately dismissed.
Jennifer Fearing, a senior director with the Humane Society in California, says the large seizure should help discourage others from dealing in the ill-gained animal product.
"California's shark fin ban is critical to ending the cruel practice of shark finning, and to protecting sharks and ocean ecosystems for future generations," says Fearing. "But the law only helps sharks if it is strongly enforced. This important bust by California's 'thin green line' sends a strong message that breaking California's animal protection laws has consequences."
An estimated 73 million sharks are killed around the world each year for their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures.