Shark fin products have been banned in California, in Toronto and elsewhere but shark fin soup remains a popular delicacy that more people in China and Hong Kong can now afford. Soup made using shark fin is a delicacy in Chinese culture dating back to the 10th century Song Dynasty. With the recent rise of economic prosperity in China, demand has grown significantly, with devastating results for the world’s shark population. The population of many species of shark has fallen by 90 percent in recent decades.
Hong Kong is the center of the trade, with 80 percent of shark fin products passing through it from 100 different countries; Spain is the biggest supplier. Some 40 percent of the shark fin auctioned in Hong Kong is from 14 species that are all on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s “red list” of endangered species. After being pretty much hacked off a shark in the ocean, the fins are dried and bleached and often treated with ammonia. It is almost impossible to know what part of the world a shark fin originated from. Stanley Shea, a member of the marine environment group Bloom Association, says that “The catches are not tracked at all, and there is no species monitoring or labeling.”
Shark fin soup is traditionally served at weddings and businesses are starting to offer discounts to those who forego the soup:
Several hotels offer discounts, cheaper room rates and other incentives for couples that choose not to serve shark fin at their wedding celebrations.
One online campaign calls on wedding guests to reduce cash gifts by about a third for couples who select the dish.
Last year campaigners persuaded Citibank Hong Kong to withdraw a promotion offering new credit card holders discount on a shark fin dinner.
On the mainland Yao Ming, the Chinese NBA star, has appeared in a well-received campaign to end finning, the practice of removing a shark’s highly valued fins and dumping what is left into the sea.
One shark find wholesaler says that prices have fallen by 20 percent over the past two months but is not sure it’s a lasting trend.
Last year, the Bloom Association conducted the most comprehensive survey of shark fin consumption to date in Hong Kong. The results give an idea of how important shark fin soup is in Chinese culture. The Bloom Association found that 89 percent of Hong Kong’s population of 7 million had eaten shark fin soup at least once in the past year. More than 50 percent said they had done so to observe tradition and only 5 percent had chosen not to serve shark fin soup at wedding banquets.
A younger generation of Chinese are starting to have the same reservations many in the US and elsewhere have about the inhumane methods used to obtain the fins and about eating an endangered species. 66 percent of respondents in the Bloom Association survey said they were uncomfortable eating an endangered species and more than 75 percent said they would not object if shark fin soup was taken off wedding menus.
Environmental advocates note that, if over-fishing of sharks continues at the current rate, the species most commonly targeted will very soon be extinct. Traditions are certainly important but certainly some other dish could be substituted for shark fin soup on banquet menus?
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