British performance artist Alice Newstead hangs from shark fishing hooks pierced through the skin of her back to protest against the slaughtering of sharks for their fins, in Hong Kong June 14, 2011 Reuters

A bill to prohibit the sale of shark fins - a Chinese delicacy - has divided the Chinese-American community in California, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Shark fin soup has long been considered a status symbol among the Chinese: The soup is served at festive occassions and in high-end restaurants, where the price of a bowl can go up to $80.

Proponents of the bill to ban the sale and possession of shark fins offer the scientifically valid argument that the practice of shark finning has catastrophic effects on the marine ecosystem - a decline in the shark population disrupts the balance of the ecosystem and allows other predators to thrive, which threaten other species of marine life used for human consumption. A more compassionate consideration is the pain and suffering inflicted on the sharks - often, fisherman will cut off the fins of sharks and toss them back into the sea, injured and disabled but still alive.

Opponents of the bill argue that it singles out and violates a culturally significant Chinese custom. Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who is running for San Francisco mayor against two Chinese American proponents of the bill, called it an unfair attack on Asian culture and cuisine that creates a disparate impact on a subset of a particular culture because the ban only applies to shark fin, not shark meat.

High-profile celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Leonardo DiCaprio have joined in solildarity with environmental groups in support of the ban. Chinese NBA star Yao Ming was featured in an effective WildAid PSA (now viewable on YouTube) that discourages people from consuming shark fin soup.

A ban on shark fin soup goes into effect on Friday in Washington and Hawaii, which the first U.S. state to vote to ban the sale, possession, and manufacture of shark fins. Washington state followed, signing a ban into law in March 2011.

The bill passed the Assembly last month by a wide margin, but is expected to be subject to further negotiations and revisions before it reaches the Senate, which will likely not be earlier than August.