The Year of the Ox is upon us! The Chinese New Year festivities began this year on January 26 and will run all the way to February 15. Vancouver is a city that is well known for its large Chinese population and for its yearly Chinese New Year celebrations. But one part of these celebrations that we could all do without? Shark Fin Soup.
This "delicacy" is essentially a chicken or pork-based broth mixed with dried shark fin cartilage. Apparently shark fin does not have a flavor, and is just used in soup for the texture. Costing anywhere from $30 to $300 a bowl (depending on the type of shark, the location served, and which source I choose to quote), to some, eating or serving this soup is a symbol of wealth and prestige. To others, this soup is seen to have health benefits. While shark fin soup is consumed year round by those rich enough to afford it, it is mainly seen as a celebratory or ceremonial dish - often served at marriages, New Year celebrations, and other important gatherings.
Shark finning is a particularly crude, cruel, and wasteful practice that usually involves slicing off the fin and throwing the rest of the live shark back in the ocean, leaving this magnificent predator to die a slow and painful death.
In addition to the unacceptable cruelty inflicted upon sharks through the extraction of their fins, academics are concerned that the practice of shark finning is also utterly devastating to our ocean ecosystem.* In light of all the bad media that shark finning has gotten in the past couple of years (ABC News, CNN, BBC, and Sharkwater to mention just a few of the outlets covering this issue...), it is amazing that shark finning and the serving of shark fin soup in restaurants is not yet banned worldwide.
In 2007, the Food Network showed the Iron Chef Japan 'shark fin' episode, complete with American commentators oohhing and ahhhing over the prestige and the price of this featured ingredient. Shark fin soup is still served in at least 15 restaurants in Vancouver, and just this year, the Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws marketed a shark fin soup for the 2009 Chinese New Year crowd. (The product was pulled from the shelf just days after its release, due to the massive public outcry.)
Killing sharks for their fins is just like killing a grizzly bear for its gallbladder, or an elephant for its tusks. So why don't we treat it as such?
*[Brierly, Andrew S. "Fisheries Ecology: Hunger for Shark Fin Soup Drives Clam Chowder off the Menu", Current Biology, Vol. 17, No. 14. (17 July 2007), pp. R555-R557]
[Myers et al. "Cascading Effects of the Loss of Apex Predatory Sharks from a Coastal Ocean", Science 30 March 2007: 1846-1850]