Shark Fin Soup: A Dangerous Delicacy

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Credit: flickr user Alpha

A bowl of shark fin soup
(photo by flickr user Alpha)

Talk to a group of Chinese or Chinese-American people and ask if they have ever eaten shark fin. Chances are they’ve eaten it several times. Served at weddings and other celebratory events, shark fin soup is a symbolic delicacy in East Asia. It bears roots in the Ming Dynasty as a dish for the elite, specifically for the Chinese emperors, lending to its significance of a dish of power and wealth. Today, with a growing demand of shark fin, fishermen struggle to supply this commodity through the cruel practice of ‘finning.’

‘Finning,’ the most common way of catching sharks today, refers to the practice in which fishermen remove the fins of live sharks and throw back the rest of the body back into the ocean. These sharks often die of suffocation or from predators once back in the water. Furthermore, the problem is that the shark fin trade extends beyond the East Asian region. Chinese communities are widespread, allowing the profitable business to enter new territories. ‘Finning’ reaches from Indonesia to Costa Rica to Taiwan in order to provide shark fin soup in places like North America and Western Europe. With this, in the past decade, studies have shown that the shark population is in decline, partly due to this expansive trade. Many endangered sharks are finned at an early age, before sexual maturity, obstructing any chance of reproduction.

Shark fins on a Hong Kong sidewalk (photo by flickr user Buttzaros)

This past summer, California’s Governor Brown passed a bill to prohibit the sales, trade, and possession of shark fin. The ban went into effect on January 1, 2012, but allows stores and restaurants to continue selling shark fin, acquired before the ban, until July 1, 2013. However, Chinese-American protestors and lobbyists seek a reversal of the ban, as it both hurts businesses and discriminates against cultural traditions.

Now, I’ve eaten shark fin soup on multiple occasions and I’ll admit, I like the way it tastes. It isn’t so much the flavor of the fin itself, but the silky texture and broth it produces. My family would splurge on the soup for large events, such as my grandma’s birthday parties. Though, only in recent years did we discover the appalling means through which shark fin is caught. All of us vowed to never eat shark fin soup again. Nothing changed at our dinner parties; we continued to enjoy the company of family, even with the absence of a notable dish. In fact, life without shark fin soup didn’t feel so different.

Check out Chef Gordon Ramsey’s documentary for more detailed information on shark fin soup and the practice of ‘finning’:

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2 thoughts on “Shark Fin Soup: A Dangerous Delicacy

  1. I fear overfishing is a major problem in China that may get worse before it gets better!

  2. There was some controversial news segment that came out when President Obama visited a Chinese restaurant in SF and supposedly bought some shark’s fin dumplings. It was interesting because this came out the day after he was being praised by the Chinese community for supporting the Chinese-American community through his visit. Its like what you’re talking about in this post – which weighs more the environment or the cultural traditions?

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