State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, is the odds-on favorite to succeed Henry Waxman in Congress. But in the closing weeks of the campaign, Lieu is being attacked on an unusual issue: shark fin soup.
In 2011, Lieu spoke out against a state law banning shark fin soup. He also suggested that some of the arguments against the taking of shark fins were racist. "There's nothing inherently wrong about drinking shark fin soup," he said at the time.
A new mailer sent to voters in the 33rd district accuses Lieu of failing to protect marine ecosystems.
"When California voted to ban the practice TED LIEU STOOD IN THE WAY," the mailer says. "TED LIEU REFUSES to protect our oceans and natural resources."
The mailer comes from American Alliance, a political action committee based in Northern Virginia. According to campaign finance disclosures, the group has taken in $25,000 from a single contributor: Harvey Rosen, the chairman of L.A.-based Pacific Equities Group.
Reached at his office, Rosen confirmed that he is supporting Elan Carr, Lieu's Republican opponent.
"I try to support Republicans," he said.
But he seemed unfamiliar with Lieu's defense of shark fin soup, and said that was not why he got involved in the race. "It has nothing to do with sharks," he said.
When the mailers started arriving last week, Lieu sent out an urgent message to his supporters, with the subject line "We are under attack."
"An out-of-state Super PAC has now gotten involved in this race and is spending money attacking me," the email stated. "Negative mail smearing my record has already started arriving in mailboxes across the district."
Lieu went on to ask for donations of $500, $100, $50 or $25.
Carr's spokesman, John Thomas, said that Carr is against shark finning, and used the issue to attack Lieu's environmental credentials.
"As an animal-cruelty prosecutor, Elan Carr believes every form of life is precious and needs protecting, from animals to humans," Thomas said. "The practice of shark finning is cruel and should be ended once and for all. One can not be pro-environment and pro–shark finning."
Some 50 million to 70 million sharks are killed each year to supply the shark-fin trade, said Sarah Sikich, science and policy director at Heal the Bay. As the oceans' top predator, sharks also play an important role in the food web, she said.
"The fins are sliced off, but the shark itself is left to sink to the bottom of the ocean and die," Sikich said. "It's a very inhumane practice."
Bill Carrick, Lieu's consultant, said that Lieu now opposes shark finning.
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"He wants to ban the sale of all parts of the shark," Carrick said.
Carrick also noted that Lieu has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, the Humane Society and the League of Conservation Voters. "If anybody’s worried about Ted Lieu’s environmental record, that’s just crazy."
Meanwhile, another independent committee has spent $256,000 on a TV ad supporting Carr. The committee, Bold Agenda PAC, is funded by John Jordan, the owner of a Santa Rosa winery.
In response, Lieu sent out another fundraising email: "THIS IS SERIOUS. I really need your help to respond."