California lawmakers voted this week to ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fins, a key ingredient in a traditional Chinese soup.

Conservation groups praised the move as a way to curb the shark fin trade. During the harvest, which is known as "finning," fishermen catch live sharks, slice off their fins, then dump the creatures back into the water. Without their fins, the sharks starve to death or suffocate because they can no longer swim. Each year, up to 73 million sharks perish from the practice, and scientists say the loss of this top predator is threatening to disrupt ocean ecosystems.

Shark fin soup is so popular in China and in communities with large Chinese populations that restaurants can charge $100 per bowl. Some Chinese American restaurateurs and traders lobbied against the California bill, saying a ban on the ingredient would discriminate against a cultural tradition.

Similar bans have already been approved in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii, and President Obama has signed federal legislation tightening a ban on shark finning in U.S. waters. If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the California law will take effect by mid-2013.

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