Shark fin soup is possibly one of the foremost reasons that some shark populations have declined over the years. Some shark species have declined by approximately 95% of the global annual catch of up to 100 million sharks. The shark fin soup industry has flourished over the years, since shark fin soup is considered a delicacy worldwide. So much so, that the President of the United States of America consumed this delicacy at a state dinner.
The shark fin soup happens to be one of the most controversial meals around the world. The Hong Kong government recently declared trade in products obtained from endangered species to be a criminal offence. Despite these measures, sharks are still hunted indiscriminately for their fins in other parts of the world.
History of the shark fin soup industry
Initially, this dish was consumed only by the wealthy houses in China and Vietnam on special occasions and events. These special events included banquets, weddings and any occasion that demanded a pretentious display of social status. Due to this, oceans were exploited by the wealthy classes.
In the past several decades there has been an increase in the income of a wider section of people. This was the result of a boom in the Chinese economy over this period of time. This resulted in the dish being available to these people who consumed it to give off an air of affluence.
To meet this demand, the shark fin soup industry began the indiscriminate hunting of sharks globally. This lead to a massive decrease in shark populations where no-one really cared about the consequences. These practises lead a number of shark species to become endangered over the period of time.
Shark fin soup: A harmful delicacy?
Although shark fin soup is a traditional delicacy in the Chinese cuisine, the shark fin without any seasoning is flavourless. The main attraction lies in the chewy texture of the cartilage, which, when cooked in chicken stock, absorbs the flavour. But the fin itself has no nutritional benefit and can actually be harmful for the body.
Sharks prey on other sea creatures, which imply that its body might be contaminated by different poisonous elements. Its body can contain dangerous amounts of cadmium, arsenic, mercury and other toxic metals. The shark’s position at the top of the food pyramid ensures that it absorbs all these harmful chemicals. When consumed on a regular basis, shark fin soup can actually prove to be extremely toxic.
Shark extinction reasons and their effects:
If we take a look into the shark extinction reasons, the primary cause would be overfishing. According to the World Wildlife Fund, sharks take a long time to mature and reproduce. They also give birth to only few offspring. Hence, overfishing causes their population to dwindle rapidly as the rate of regeneration is lesser than the rate of mortality. This has led to one-third of the total shark species in the world to be threatened by extinction.
Very often, sharks are caught by illegal fishing boats who hunt for sharks solely for their fins. Once the fins are hacked off, the sharks are dropped back into the water. Being unable to survive without fins, these fishes die soon after. Sharks play a huge role in maintaining the fine balance of marine food chains as they are apex predators. Loss in their numbers might disrupt the marine ecosystems greatly.
Movement against the shark fin soup industry in China:
WildAid, a group that is involved in the protection of shark species launched a massive public information campaign in 2008. The group designed a commercial in which the environmental impacts of shark fin soup consumption were revealed.
Since then there has been a widespread awareness among the people about its adverse environmental impacts. Serving shark fin soup at state banquets is now a banned practice in China by government orders. Even the Chinese air carriers have banned the transportation of shark fins. 21 countries, including the USA have enacted laws either banning or restricting the practice of shark finning.
A number of protests have taken place demanding government laws to makeshark finning illegal in China. Stricter regulations in Hong Kong have reduced the volume of shark fin imports. Despite all the measures, shark dishes are still found in more than 95% of the casinos and hotels in Macau.
Other places around the world where the shark finning industry has flourished
Instead of making finning illegal in China, the Chinese government has introduced 25% tariffsduring mid-June. These tariffs are expected to apply to exported American goods such as lobsters, salmon and whole or cut shark fins. In such a situation, fishermen in Indonesia have resorted to shark finning in order to meet the inflated demand. They pursue this as a part time opportunity to earn money. Hence, it has had an adverse effect globally while potentially raising the demands from countries where fisheries aren’t well-managed.
This has been fuelled by the increase in consumption in places like Thailand, Macau, Vietnam and Indonesia. Indonesia reportedly the biggest exporter of shark fin, followed by IIndi closely. This has increased the instances of indiscriminate killings of sharks in Indonesia which has caused a lot of environmental harm. Lack of local supervision has led to finning of sharks even in tourist areas.
Future scope of saving the shark species:
Despite the spread of awareness and decrease in consumption of shark fins, there is still a long way to go. The shark fin soup industry is still flourishing undeterred by the tariffs and the bans. Governments of countries where shark finning is rampant need to adopt measures to ensure that finning is a banned practice.
The rate at which the shark species are getting endangered should enforce how grave a situation it imposes for ecosystems. A worldwide awareness generated among the youth might also lead to a better distribution of awareness in future. As witnessed in the case of Hong Kong, better awareness might actually yield surprising results.