International outcry against shark finning and the consumption of shark fin is not new. As species of shark are put on the endangered list, the campaign for protection and conservation continues.
Would the new Bill passed by the California Senate make a difference in the United States, helping to make a dent in this billion-dollar industry and bringing this issue of cruelty and marine conversation to the forefront for those who continue to order shark fin soup?
And what about right here at home, in Singapore?
Shark fin soup is a traditional Chinese delicacy served in China and overseas in restaurants and homes. Shark fin itself has no taste, only adding texture to the soup. With a bowl at $100 or more, serving shark fin soup is seen as a sign of prosperity, a staple at traditional Chinese wedding banquets or other important events or for honoured guests. An average wedding banquet sits 300.
The increase of wealth in the past decades and especially in the number of nouveau riche mainland Chinese has seen a growth in this industry.
Bill AB 376 was passed by the Californian Senate September 6 2011. If enacted by Gov Jerry Brown, the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins would be banned as of January 1 2012. This would make California the fourth state, along with Hawaii (the first), Oregon, and Washington, to pass laws to close enforcement loopholes. With California having the highest demand for shark fins outside of Asia, this Bill would make an important impact on the shark fin trade. It’s estimated that some 85% of dried shark fin that comes into the US is through California.
In 2010 an estimated 70 million sharks were killed through a process called shark finning. This is the removal of the fin and the disposal of the body by tossing it back into the water. Because it’s only the fins that are of value to the fishermen, they throw back the live sharks to free up space on their shipping vessels.
This practice is cruel and barbaric, as the shark is usually still alive when the fins are cut off. Because they are unable to move, the sharks are eaten alive, bleed to death or drown after they are discarded.
This unsustainable fishing method has also led to the near decimation of many species of sharks. Estimates place the population decline of shark species at between 70% to 99%. The disappearance of sharks from our oceans means imbalances in the ecosystem and far-reaching and irreversible effects on the marine web of life. This could happen within our lifetimes.
Shark finning is largely unmonitored and unregulated and without the shark’s body, identification of the species for enforcement purposes is difficult.
The Shark Finning Prohibition Act, passed during the Clinton Administration, banned finning in US waters and for US-registered shipping vessels. Shark fins cannot enter the US without the corresponding carcasses. Due to loopholes in this ban, finning continued without meaningful enforcement. In 2008 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mandated that in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, sharks must come to port with fins naturally attached and no transfers of fins be allowed at sea.
I applaud the activism, in raising awareness and pushing through needed legislation. It takes resolve and financial backing to monitor and enforce these laws. Celebrity endorsement against shark fin soups and the removal of this “delicacy” from many restaurant menus are all encouraging signs. High profile stance by organizations such as Disneyland Hong Kong and media attention help disseminate information to people who otherwise have been eating shark fin for generations, without thought or question. Most people do not think about how their food gets to the supermarket or their dining table.
It’s not a cultural attack.
The debate on the latest Bill has touched off cultural sensitivities in the US, with Chinese American interest groups lobbying against the ban. To some, it may appear to be targeting a traditional and cultural practice since the Bill focuses only on fin harvesting, rather than shark hunting in general.
The sheer number of sharks killed each year, their importance to the marine ecosystem, and the inhumane way in which fins are harvested make it a global issue. Animals don’t live within political borders and were not created to satisfy any cultural beliefs, culinary preferences or religious mandates.
Hong Kong remains the largest shark fin trading nation, importing about 10 million kilos each year. Their suppliers range from over 80 countries, the biggest ones being Spain, Singapore, and Taiwan. Singapore is the second largest shark fin trading nation and a top five consumer.
Animal welfare and conservation must be everyone’s responsibility, on some level. While we campaign on the supply side, ultimately lasting change will only come from the demand side. A billion-dollar industry simply doesn’t end by the supply side, especially when it spans the globe. Where money, greed, and some can argue way of life, are involved, people’s ingenuity is amazing when it comes to finding loopholes and evasion.
Here in Singapore, shark fin shops still line the streets, proudly displaying fins in showcases. Menus still include this “delicacy” and continue to be served at many wedding banquets and at deal-making business dinners. According to SPCA Singapore, shark fin is even found at hawker centres.
In 2001, SIA pulled it from their flights. The Fairmont Hotel Singapore has stopped offering it at Szechuan Court and Raffles City Convention Centre since 2009. Who else is leading the charge? It must be us!
Say no to shark fin. Do not include it on your menu. Decline it – someone’s else false pride is less important than your stance against cruelty.
Do not buy into the idea that serving shark fin soup is a status symbol or a sign of your generosity or prosperity. It is a sign of poverty of the spirit and a lack of awareness.
Chinese culture has been a long one, full of incredible innovations and achievements. Shark fin soup does not define the Chinese culture. After all, isn’t culture an expression of people, with a greater appreciation of beauty, intellectual thought, and morals? Don’t we transmit our belief systems and our behaviours down the generations?
I wonder if people know how shark fins are harvested.
I wonder if they know they have a voice, a choice.
If they knew, how differently would they live?
Now you know.
Will you rise up to the call to action? And be the change?
- California Senate Votes to Ban Trade of Shark Fins in California, It’s Now Up To Governor Brown (treehugger.com)
- No Soup For You! Shark-Fin Soup Ban Approved by California Legislature (newsfeed.time.com)
- Calif. lawmakers pass bill banning shark-fin trade (abclocal.go.com)