Fins 101

Fins 101

19 September, 2012
The shark fin dupe
There’s nothing good about eating shark fin cartilage
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The tradition of eating shark fin soup dates back many centuries, to a time when it was a sustainable delicacy by the very nature of its rarity and price, making it something found only at the emperor’s table during celebrations. In the past few decades, however, massive demand has spawned a shark fin industry that threatens to wipe out sharks completel.
 
To a westerner, the outlandish powers attributed to shark fin might resemble something out of a fable story. One misconception, for instance, is that sharks are immune to disease and cancer, and that therefore eating shark cartilage might somehow impart this power to humans; unfortunately even if this were possible, sharks are very much susceptible to all sorts of illness, including cartilage cancer. Claims have also been made regarding the aphrodisiac powers of shark fin soup; these, again, have been widely disproven and have absolutely no base in science. In fact, ironically, a lot of shark fin is high in mercury, which, if eaten in quantity, can be very harmful to the body and even cause men to become sterile.
 
The typical shark fin soup is seasoned with chicken stock, abalone or other additives. The cartilage has no taste of its own, due to the 3-day boiling process needed to relieve it of its decidedly unpleasant natural odour. So it certainly isn’t for its flavour that the demand for shark fin persists. Even so, it is still widely served in some parts of Asia, as well as sold in pill and powder forms. In Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Singapore particularly, it is ubiquitous at banquets and special occasions, and remains a profitable business for the few who monopolize it.
 
Rob Stewart knows all too well the cruelty with which the fins are harvested. During the filming of his beautiful and revealing documentary Sharkwater, he witnessed the process firsthand. To maximize space for the lucrative fins aboard fishing boats, the fins are sawn off of the live caught sharks. The animals are then thrown back into the water to suffocate and die. Studies have shown that sharks, far from being the mindless killers the fin industry would like us to imagine, are playful, social creatures, nurturing parents, a timid species that do feel pain, making this practice not only wasteful but utterly inhumane.
 
In a recent interview, Claire Nouvian, leading expert on marine conservation and founder of BLOOM Association, asked me to guess how many humans sharks kill every year. On average? Four. Then she shared with me a staggering number in contrast: How many sharks are killed by humans? Over 200,000…oh but not per year, she adds. Per day. If that fast fact isn’t shocking enough for you, here’s another: Sharks have been on this planet for at least four hundred million years. Consider that interval of time carefully before reading the next sentence. In the past fifty years, humans have singlehandedly wiped out 90% of sharks worldwide. At least one-third of all open-water shark species are presently a hair’s breadth away from disappearing completely. Extinct. And this heartbreakingly swift extermination is almost entirely due to Asia’s insatiable demand for shark fin.
 
Depending on our actions now, our grandchildren will face either of two outcomes, neither of which involves eating shark fin: the first is that, because we took action in time and passed on our learnings to them, they will have an appreciation for marine life and be able to enjoy seafood responsibly as part of their diet and learn about all the beautiful creatures that still live in the sea. Or, in the second outcome, they will neither appreciate marine life nor eat seafood because there will be none. According to Claire, this is bad news not just for the sharks, but for the entire marine ecosystem and, ultimately, for us. Sharks are the top predators in the marine food chain; if they die out, the resulting imbalance will spell disaster for the world’s oceans. The solution is so simple it’s laughable.
 
Experts like Claire and Rob all have the same advice: When you eat, you vote. When the demand disappears, so does the massive killing. All you need to do now is make your stance known (shark fin is bad) and back it up with actions (don’t eat it). Once more: stop eating it. Start talking about it. In the very near future, serving shark fin soup at a banquet will be less a symbol of power and wealth and more a symbol of ignorance and inhumanity. And when that time inevitably comes - when this majestic creature finally earns the respect it deserves - if it’s not too late, you can proudly say to your kids, “I quit eating that stuff ages ago. I helped bring about that change!”
 
To learn more or to support the anti-shark fin campaign check out these sites: Hong Kong Shark Foundation Shark Savers WWF Shark Campaign
 
Images via: www.sharkwater.com
 

By: Ecozine Staff
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