China Bans Shark Fin Consumption

shark finning operation in Phillipines

Some positive news came from China this week as legislation which will ban shark fin soup from being served at government functions over the next 3 years was introduced.  While we would love to see a ban to this barbaric practice worldwide, it is a start since Chinese officials reportedly spent close to 200 billion Yuan (32 billion dollars) in 2004 on meals according to a 2004 statistic.  As we have seen shark populations globally plummet close to 80% in the past decade, one has to wonder why a decision like this has taken so long and not been adopted globally.

photo courtesy of stopsharkfinning.net

What is Shark Fin Soup?

Shark Fin soup is considered a delicacy in most Asian cultures and has rumored health benefits associated with arthritis, psoriasis, and even cancer.  Shark fins and shark cartilage in particular has been used by the Chinese for thousands of years to treat and cure a whole host of ailments.  One can see how possibly in ancient cultures a part of such an exotic and powerful animal could be thought to have beneficial effects to humans, but in 2012 it seems like empirical medical data would cast light on the lack of credible evidence of this.

The preparation for the soup begins often far from land on a long line vessel where sharks are hauled aboard from miles of baited line, their fins are cut off on the deck, and then they are helplessly tossed back overboard where they either suffocate or are eaten by other predators.  The fins are then dried on the deck of the boat or brought back to land where they are hung by the thousands on rooftops.  The actual soup is then prepared with the fins being made into a broth that is cooked for many hours.  Since the fins themselves don’t have really any flavor, many other herbs and ingredients are added to make the soup taste like more than just a cartilaginous shark slurry.  This soup is then sold for up to 400$ a bowl in upscale restaurants in asia which sometimes only specialize in this dish.

Why Should We Care About Sharks?

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 70 million sharks are killed each year predominantly to feed the demand for fins from Asian countries.  They are caught mainly on long lines which in and of themselves are harmful to many ocean creatures due to their indiscriminate nature of catching things.  We know from other environments that removing top predators can have far reaching effects throughout a given ecosystem and can sometimes result in a total collapse of a food chain.

The announcement by China is a small but critical step towards a global ban on Shark Fin Soup and Shark Cartilage products in general.  We have seen public figures try to throw their celeb behind banning shark fin products including Yao Ming, Gordon Ramsey, and others.  Gordon in particular has taken his typical “in your face” approach and done an amazing as well as hard to watch investigation on the whole supply chain of shark fin  soup.

Shark Fin Soup, is but another example how out of sight out of mind cannot be used as an excuse for ignorance about what we choose to eat. In fact, if you stop and piece together all the steps to trace your food back to where it came from, you probably would have a whole new outlook on sustainability.  In a world where population is growing and resources are finite it does beg the question of how and more specifically when will we change our consumption habits in order to leave this place in better shape for our children.

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