Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Shark Fin Soup

A historic Chinese delicacy called shark fin soup has rich significance in Asian culture, being idolised as a dish fit only for royalty and the ultra rich. Known for its aphrodisiac effects, the dish is actually pretty underwhelming, consisting of hot clear broth, dried ham, seafood, and small strands of shark fin, making the shark fin an interesting replacement for noodles (Vance 44). In Asian culture it is viewed as a status symbol, eaten at weddings and other celebratory events. The shark fins are sourced through a process known as finning, where a shark is caught, has all of its fins dismembered and then finally thrown back into the sea to bleed out or suffocate. Recently there have been uproars around the world pertaining to the ethics of how shark fins are sourced; leading governments worldwide to consider policy changes and heavier restrictions on the buying and selling of fins. The value of shark fins in terms of currency is very high, in Asia one kilogram of shark fins can cost from $700 all the way up to $1,400. Even though Asian culture highly values the soup as a status symbol in their culture, shark populations need to be protected because they are rapidly declining, on the verge of extinction.
Shark fin soup is deeply rooted in Chinese culture originating from the Ming Dynasty as an imperial dish that only royals and the rich could afford to consume. In the magazine Virginia Quarterly Review Erik Vance explains “According to legend, it was also a notable part of the 
Manchu Han Imperial Feast, a three-day meal presented by the emperor in 1720, where shark fin soup was supposedly served alongside such dishes as camel’s hump, leopard fetus, and brains scooped from the skulls of living monkeys.”(44). Shark fin soup is an integral meal in almost any classic Chinese wedding, being held to the same importance as the bride’s gown. Many people only attending the wedding celebrations to consume the prized dish, and will criticize the the two 
families if it is not provided (Vance 53). In an interview for NPR, a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong named Wendy Mok equates shark fin soup to ice cream going on to explain “It’s eating at, like, a big birthday party of your aunt or uncle, or, like, a wedding banquet. You usually dress up to go to these special occasions. So when i think of shark fins even now, i'm like, whoa, yum, yum, yum.” (“California Debates”).
The allure and popularity of the dish has had an effect on shark populations across the globe, with biologists worried about the predators possible extinction. It is estimated by The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation that about 900,000 tons of sharks, rays, and skates were caught in just the year 2003. Shark populations have been decimated around the world for only their fins, as shark meat has no real value. A 2006 article in The New York Times claims “Some sharks, like the hammerhead and the great white, have been reduced by upwards of 70 percent in the last 15 years, while other sharks, like the silky white tip, have disappeared from the Caribbean.”. The amount of sharks that have been caught in the last 10 years is triple what was caught 50 years ago. Shark fin fishing is turning into an unsustainable industry, the amount of sharks that are being caught every year is increasing to the point that sharks cannot reproduce quickly enough to keep populations stable. In another report published in 2011 it was estimated that commercial fishing has cut the populations of big shark species by more than 95 percent  (Vance 42). But there seems to be no stopping the shark fishing industry with one fisherman saying “The shark, the fishing, will never end. Fishing will only end when the water ends.”
The practice of fishing sharks for their fins is known as shark finning. Fishermen only harvest the fins of a shark because shark meat by itself has almost no value while the fins of the shark have exponential monetary value. The age-old way that fishermen will acquire fins of a 
shark is by reeling it into the boat, dismember all of the fins and then proceed to throw the shark's body back into the ocean to either bleed out, or consumed by other fish. No shark species are exempt from being finned but in a National Public Radio debate a shark keeper describes the ideal shark for shark finning by explaining “With very large eyes, a tall dorsal fin and wide, exaggerated pectoral fins, unfortunately, she's an example of a shark that might be finned.”. With shark meat being viewed as almost worthless, fishermen see no point in taking up precious storage space for the whole shark, and instead would rather save the space to hold more valuable fish. From one shark the dorsal and pectoral fins, known as a “set” can earn the fisherman 100$ or more.

Liz Clark(7)


  1. It is actually pretty sad that they handicap these sharks and then just throw them back into the ocean to die. I understand that it is a delicacy in Asian culture, however; they should at least treat the sharks better in terms of not having them suffocate because they can't swim to allow water to flow through their gills. Unfortunately, there are very few regulations in Asian countries about how they treat animals and its a shame that a lot of animals suffer due to this. I wonder if there are any policies that are currently trying to get passed to maybe relieve some of the stress on the shark populations.
    Posted by Brianna Luciani

  2. This article is really sad. people now a days only care about money. It is very cruel to leave these sharp to either bleed out or get eaten by other fish. i wonder if anything is being done to try and fix this. a few summers ago i was im the Dominican Republic and my parents tried to get a fish thats very popular because of its flavor . they told us that it's fishing was banned due to the species being endangered. no fisherman was fishing for these fishes no matter the amount of money people were offering because they had put such strict laws. I wish something like this could be implemented but actually maintain s strong force so that people see how serious it is.

    Posted by Pam Jimenez

  3. This is always such a sad thing to hear about. Some sharks need to stay moving in order to breathe. This is how they circulate oxygen-rich water through their gills. Without fins I wonder if it is the same sensation as suffocating to death. Some sort of legislation should be enacted in order to protect the species most at risk. It is very hard to change something that is ingrained in so many peoples' cultures, though.

    Posted by Meagan Gustafson

  4. The most upsetting thing for me is the wastefulness of this practice. The shark itself is considered worthless and even though the meat is eatable, it is just tossed back into the ocean to suffer a brutal death. My guess is that the body of the bleeding shark in turn attracts more sharks and thus the vicious circle continues. I also wonder if the fact that the body of the shark is not used is actually why the fins a regarded so precious?! I'm all about keeping traditions alive and preserve cultures but certain things just don't work anymore in a modern world that becomes smaller and smaller every day.