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Progress: Fewer people Want Shark Fin Soup!

Apr 23, 2015 12:11 PM EDT
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sandbar shark

(Photo : wiki cc0- Joe Boyd)

Did you have a good Earth Day? Let's finish off a week that celebrates our beautiful blue world with a nice bowl of soup. One that noticeably lacks any shark fins. Surprisingly, a great many Chinese consumers will be right there with us, as a new study has found that the demand for shark fin soup is taking a steep dive.

That's at least according to a survey report recently co-published by marine conservation group BLOOM and the Social Sciences Research Centre of The University of Hong Kong.

The report, which you can find here, details how nearly 70 percent of Hong Kong residents have reduced or entirely stopped their consumption of shark fin soup - a delicacy that boasts no small infamy among animal rights activists and conservationists.

The soup is reportedly rather tasty, even if shark fin itself lacks flavor. Instead, the fin is prized by Chinese chefs for its stringy texture which can compliment various broths. It is also only delicious after a very elaborate preparation - a staple in Chinese cuisine that shows off prestige and honor. Serving this to guests then, most popularly at weddings, was traditionally seen as a way to show them respect and appreciation. (Scroll to read on...)

A decadent shark fin soup served in crab cream - a popular choice at banquets.
(Photo : Andrew Fung) A decadent shark fin soup served in crab cream - a popular choice at banquets.

The Soup's Good... But How They Got it Will Make You Sick

The problem, however, is how most shark fins are obtained.

"India, South Africa, Mexico, Canada, Argentina, the EU, and the US, for example, permit removal of fins only if carcasses are first brought to shore. That creates difficulties in handling and storage, making fin sale far less profitable," Ted Williams, an avid angler and conservationist, said in an analysis of shark fin trends for Yale's Environment360.

He explained that in countries like China, anglers are far more wasteful, catching sharks only to slice off their fins and dump them directly back into the water - leaving the animals to die slow and humiliating deaths. This, of course, frees up a great deal of storage on fishing boats, enabling much more slaughter of various shark species.

"Sharks can't bounce back like other fish," the angler added. "Most give birth to dog-size litters, and those that lay eggs don't spew big numbers."(Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : Wiki CC0 - Sebastián Losada)

Williams described how sharks popularly finned, like Sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) and Duskies (Carcharhinus obscurus), don't mature until their late teens and deliver a limited number of pups only every couple years. With sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus), only two offspring ever survive their childhood - after viciously competing with and eventually eating their siblings.

The consequence, then, is collapsing food chains in which herbivore aquatic life is left to overpopulate and overgraze in the absence of large predators.

A Changing View

The good news is that more and more Chinese citizens are becoming aware of the atrocities that are committed to make shark fin soup profitable, and they have called for their government to put a stop to it.

The aforementioned BLOOM report is a follow-up of a 2009 survey study, which revealed that almost 80 percent of average Hong Kong residents (out of a sample group of 1,000) felt it was perfectly acceptable or even admirable to exclude shark fin soup from weddings. The majority of those who did consume shark fin the year they were surveyed said they did so because it was already being served, not because they actively pursued the delicacy.

The follow-up survey, which was concluded in 2014, showed that in a mere five years, public opinion has tilted even further away from shark fin demand, with 92 percent of average Hong Kong citizens claiming that excluding the infamous soup at weddings and other celebrations was acceptable. Some were even aware of alternatives - like vegetable-based imitation soups - which preserve an age-old tradition while simultaneously cutting demand for actual shark fin. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : Flickr: Cloneofsnake)

Less than 1 percent of those surveyed saw shark fin soup as irreplaceable at banquets.

"These survey results are promising and show that even in the hub of the global trade of shark fins, public support for protecting sharks is growing," Imogen Zethoven, Director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Global Shark Conservation Campaign, said in a statement. "We know that approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries, mostly to meet the demand for shark fins. Reducing consumption will save more sharks."

Leaders Take Action

Most encouragingly, these opinions have improved in the wake of actions taken by officials in not only Hong Kong, but the greater part of China and Malaysia to have banned shark fin foods at government functions. Five hotel chains have also promised not to serve the soup (the most recent being InterContinental), while a whopping 31 airlines are now against transporting the fins that fuel a cruel industry.

American Airlines was the most recent addition to that list, with the popular travel provider publically announcing to Wild Aid Hong Kong's Alex Hofford that the company had quietly halted all shark fin shipping early last month. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : WildAid)

In a rare show of government support, especially concerning endangered species, the 2014 BLOOM survey also revealed that 87 percent of respondents agreed that the Hong Kong government has an important role to play in growing shark protection.

"The momentum that we are gaining for the goal of sustainable shark resourcing is encouraging, and we welcome the government taking the lead and doing more for marine conservation," Stan Shea, Chief Marine Program Coordinator of BLOOM, added in a statement. "But conservation work isn't done. The government has yet to implement any regulation on the sale of endangered species products beyond international trade protections for the seven species of sharks and rays agreed to in 2013. Therefore, as long as endangered species of shark and other marine species are still being traded, review and enforcement of trade regulations are necessary."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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