Shark-Finning Whims

Shark finning can be largely summarized as the monetizing of human whims. It is the brutal practice of slicing off a shark’s fins, often for use in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. The shark – often still alive – is thrown overboard to bleed to death and die of starvation at the bottom of the sea.

Shark fin soup was once an Asian delicacy reserved for the wealthy but with a growing middle class, shark fin soup is now becoming common fare at weddings, banquets and business meetings. A bowl can cost up to US $100, making the fins easily the most lucrative part of the shark. Raw shark fins are processed by first removing the skin and denticles, then trimming them to shape and bleaching to a more desirable color.

Interestingly however, in shark fin soup, the fins themselves are virtually tasteless. The taste comes from the soup, while the fins are valued for their texture which is gelatinous. Vitamin content of typical shark fin soup is much less than that of typical vegetable soup. Since shark meat is inferior to other fish and the bodies are bulky and take up precious cargo space, sharks are finned around the world. This brutal practice is also incredibly wasteful; shark finning only utilizes one to five percent of the shark’s body weight, removing an essential food source from many communities.

Without the fins attached, many sharks can’t be identified, which further impedes management. Estimates suggest that between 26 and 73 million (!) sharks are finned each year, all for a tasteless product that translates to “fish wing” and adds nothing more than structure to a broth. Shame.

According to Wikipedia, some groups, such as Fins Attached, Shark Savers, Shark Angels, Shark Whisperer, Shark Huggers, among others, discourage the consumption of the soup due to concerns with the world’s shark population and how inhumanely sharks are finned alive and tossed back into the ocean, unable to swim, hunt or survive. The prevalence of shark finning and the sustainability of sharks are both debated.Othersfeel targeting the Chinese tradition is Sinophobic.

Major hotel operators The Peninsula Hotels and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts stopped serving shark fin soup in the interest of offering sustainable seafood. The three largest supermarket chains in Singapore – Cold Storage, NTUC FairPrice and Carrefour—have stopped selling shark fins while also citing sustainability concerns. Hong Kong Disneyland dropped the soup from its menu after it could not find a sustainable source. The University of Hong Kong banned serving shark fin soup, hoping “to give a lead which others in Hong Kong will follow”.

Malaysia’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry banned shark’s fin soup from official functions in a commitment to the Malaysian Nature Society to conserve the shark species. In the United States, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands have banned the sale and possession of shark fins, effectively eliminating the availability of the soup. California governor Jerry Brown cited the cruelty of finning and potential threats to the environment and commercial fishing in signing the bill. Opponents charged the ban was discriminatory against Chinese, the main consumers of the shark fin soup, when federal laws already banned the practice of finning. Whole sharks would still be legally fished, but the fins could no longer be sold.

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, joined other municipalities like Brantford and Mississauga in adopting a shark fin ban on 13 October 2011. Calgary, Alberta joined other Canadian cities in banning shark fin soup on 16 July, 2012. On 2 July, 2012, China Government Offices Administration of the State Council claimed that shark fin soup at official functions will be banned in 3 years.

Have a look at this great infographic to learn more (click to enlarge):

Shark finning

Credit: Excerpts from Oceana, Greenpeace, Wikipedia