- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2012

President Obama purchased lunch at a San Francisco restaurant that serves shark fin soup, after signing a law last month that protects sharks from being harvested for their fins.

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday that Mr. Obama didn’t know the controversial soup was on the menu when he made a surprise visit Thursday to the Great Eastern restaurant in Chinatown. Mr. Obama was in the midst of a fundraising trip on the West Coast.

The president “was not aware of this report” in San Francisco newspapers about the soup, Mr. Carney said.

‘“The president enjoyed his visit to Chinatown,” he said.

The restaurant’s menu includes a bowl of braised shark fin soup for $48. Mr. Obama didn’t try the soup, instead ordering a takeout meal of shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings, steamed pork buns, Shanghai dumplings and stuffed mushrooms.

California outlawed the sale of shark fin products last year. The soup is a considered a delicacy in Asian culture, but supporters of the ban say hunting sharks for their fins is animal cruelty.

The restaurant is one of several in San Francisco that are still selling the soup due to a loophole in the legislation, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The ban signed by Gov. Jerry Brown went into effect Jan. 1, but the sale of fins already in California is allowed until July 1, 2013.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has objected to the harvesting of shark fins, saying on its web site, “All animals feel fear and pain, and what kind of justification can there be for the hideous cruelty involved in pulling sharks from the water, cutting off their fins, and then throwing them back into the sea to spin to the bottom while they slowly bleed to death?”

On Jan. 4, Mr. Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, which prohibits cutting off the fins of most shark species at sea.  Environmental groups say tens of millions of sharks annually have their fins cut off and are left in the ocean to die.

At the restaurant Thursday, Mr. Obama spent time greeting patrons in the dining room, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

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