The world finally seems to be getting the message: Killing sharks for fin soup just isn’t cool anymore.
Trendy, high-end restaurants the world over pride themselves on offering shark fin soup, at a premium, for “foodies” who, for whatever reason, think that it’s perfectly okay to slaughter a 2,000 pound top marine predator simply for its appendages.
According to Hong Kong's Census and Statistics Department, even though 3,100 metric tons of shark fin were sold in China last year, this year's numbers are way down.
Sharks, victims of their own evolutionary success, have been revered in Chinese culture for centuries for their fearsome power. Shark fin is traditionally served at weddings, banquets and other auspicious occasions. The fins have attained almost mystical abilities to ramp up sexual potency, prevent cardiovascular disease and improve one’s complexion.
But in recent years, consumers have begun to look at sharks as vital, fascinating members of the oceanic food chain. Once feared and loathed (much like orcas of yore), sharks have won newfound respect among conservationists and, fortunately, the general dining public as well.
How do we know that shark fin consumption is dropping? Two words: Hong Kong, long considered the shark-fin capital of the world. Roughly half of the tens of millions of fins (both dorsal and pectoral) taken from sharks around the world make their way to the Hong Kong market. But the nascent backlash against killing sharks simply for their prized fins—it is called “harvesting,” where fishermen hack off the fins of live sharks and cast their still-writing bodies back into the sea— is rising.
Public pressure from Asian celebrities such as Yao Ming, Jackie Chan, and Ang Lee, Hong Kong, mainland China, and a number of hotel and restaurant chains, which have all recently come out against fin harvesting, and vowed to take the coveted ingredient off their menus, the tide seems to be turning and the impact on the world’s shark population could be enormous.
“Not consuming shark fins becomes a kind of signifier to show you are a socially responsible person,” Veronica Mak, an anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Voice of America. “In the past, when you wanted to show your social status, people made shark fins a signifier in a banquet, but nowadays this signifier changes,” she said. Young people, especially, seem to be shunning the soup.
So are hipster foodies (at last) and even some U.S. states. In California, for example, a shark fin soup ban has just gone into effect. And, like they say, as goes California, so goes the country.
A 50 percent reduction in the Hong Kong fin market is certainly something to celebrate, but global demand remains, including among the many burgeoning Chinese communities outside China.
Even so, as a recent opinion piece in The New York Times pointed out: “When Chinese brides say no to shark fin soup, we should all take notice. The future preferences of consumers in China and India add up to far more than just local custom. Declining shark fin consumption may be a lesson that there is an accounting for taste after all.”
This reporter has never tried shark fin soup. I imagine it is quite good. But it is also one of those exotic dishes I can easily live without—especially if it will help maintain what is left of the marine food chain balance.
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