What is Shark Fin Soup?
Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Chinese culture. It was first created by an emperor in the Sung Dynasty (AD 968), which is known as the golden era in Chinese history. This dish was created as a sign of the emperor’s wealth, power and generosity.
The soup can be served in various forms such as with the shark fin whole (more expensive) or it can also be served in “threads,” like thick vermicelli. The soup is usually thick and made from chicken and/or ham broth and can include chicken pieces as well. The shark fin itself does not contribute to the flavour of the soup, it’s role is simply symbolic. The price for a single bowl of soup can range anywhere from $5 to $2000.
Shark Fin Soup and Chinese Culture
Shark Fin soup is a part of the eight treasures of Chinese culture, along with camel humps, bear paws, and monkey brain. Although the latter have slowly faded, shark fin soup’s significance has increased. It slowly became known to be a part of “The Big Four.” The Big Four consist of Abalone [bào], Sea cucumber [shēn], Shark fin [chì] and Fish maw [dǔ].
It is a norm in Chinese culture to “share your fortune,” with others. This is almost impossible for people who emigrated out of their home country to build a future for their children. Serving Shark Fin soup at their children’s wedding reception is their way of saying to the community, “look how far I’ve come, I can finally afford these expensive dishes,” and “It’s an honour to share these dishes with my friends and family.”
Controversy over Shark Fin Soup
Shark Fins are harvested by slicing the fin of the shark while the shark is still alive and throwing the animal back into the water. Often times the shark is still alive and suffers greatly before it finally dies or is eaten by predators. For at least the last decade, Shark Fin Soup has been greatly contested over its “inhumane” harvest. The International Humane Society has even launched a pledge, to help protect sharks.
Who Does it Benefit?
Who does shark finning really benefit if it adds no actual flavour to the soup? Everyone except the Shark. When fins are harvested a mere 2% of the shark is actually being used and boarded on ships for transport. By harvesting only the fins the fisherman has effectively saved space on the boat and increased his profit.
Shark finning and the sale of shark fins has been banned in twelve states in the US since 2000. Canada banned shark finning is 2004 but recently banned the import of shark fins in 2019. Making it one is the first country in the G7 to do so. Statistics Canada reports that in 2018, the shark fin industry imported $3.2 million CAD which is a whopping 148,0000 kg worth of shark fins.
Bill S-238, the Ban on Shark Fin Importation and Exportation Act, was finally passed nation wide in June 2018. The motion was overturned five times before finally a country wide ban was initiated.
The bans on shark fins in the West may be a small stepping stone in the right direction but more action needs to be taken as Asian countries are the highest consumers of shark fins. Thailand has exported over 5000 tonnes of shark fin in 2015 alone according to the Food Intelligence Centre Thailand. These numbers make Thailand the number one exporter of shark fins in the world.
Effects of Shark Finning and How to Stop It
Shark finning has had a catastrophic effect on the shark population. Sharks are now facing extinction. The species is extremely vulnerable. It takes sharks up to 20 years to reach the age of sexual maturity and produce young. With today’s demand of shark fins it is impossible to restore the population to what it once was. Researchers state approximately 100 million sharks are killed annually, the number one reason being shark finning. Since 1972 shark population has decreased by 60-70% in species such as Smooth Hammerhead, Dusky, Tiger, Bull, and Black-tip sharks. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that 18-20 species are already listed as endangered. Scientists say that besides the brutality that shark finning is, the continued mass killing of these apex predators will have serious impact on the ocean’s ecosystem and other fish population.
How can we stop the inhumane killing of these magnificent creatures? We can join the International Humane Society and sign their pledge for starters. We can educate our friends and family to see this as an act of cruelty and ask them to join us in our pledge. Once the demand stops, the killing stops.