Upcoming ban on shark fins cuts into Chinese culture

Government bans make a delicacy even rarer

Yiping Yang By Yiping Yang

China, the largest market for shark fins, will stop serving the delicacy in soup and other meals at state banquets, officials said Monday.

Workers remove the skin of slaughtered sharks in Puqi, a major shark processing center in China. (Reuters)

The ban would take effect over the next three years. The delay reflects how shark fins are a symbol of status and wealth that won’t be easy to eradicate from Chinese culture. At lavish state events, weddings and important business meals, they’re considered a necessity. And they’re expensive. A small bowl of shark fin soup runs at 128 renminbi, or about $20. But a large bowl can easily put you back 2880 renminbi, or $457.

Fishermen harvest almost 73 million sharks’ fins annually. Since sharks are too big to store easily, fishermen often cut off their expensive fins and then cruelly cast the sharks, which are still alive, back into sea. The industry is contributing to declines in the global population of sharks.

The United States has also been phasing out shark fin consumption. On Monday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law that bans the sale, trade and distribution of shark fins. Other states have adopted similar bans. In January, President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, which places limits on harvesting sharks. (That didn’t stop Obama from visiting a restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown the next month where they served shark fin soup, however. Oops.)

Environmentalists, animal rights campaigners and others welcomed the upcoming ban in China, whose citizens consume over 95 percent of the world’s harvested shark fins. According to China Daily, about 100 million Chinese have tasted shark fins, usually in soup.

Still, the Chinese taste for shark fins is controversial in the country. Former NBA basketball star and Chinese citizen Yao Ming has been calling for an end to the shark fin trade for years. Ordinary Chinese folks are also critical of the food.

“How about those wealthy people?” posted March Crazy Hat on Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter. “We humans have no rights to decide other creatures’ lives. Moreover, these killing are only for satisfying our status and appetites. Please save our earth!”

Latitude News can’t vouch for the tastiness of the soup, but we’ve heard it’s pretty bland. Chefs flavor the soup with spices and other ingredients. The high price of shark fins certainly doesn’t meet their nutritional value. The fins also tend to contain high levels of mercury.

“Braised Shark’s fin with Saffron Chicken Sauce” serviced at state banquet in Hong Kong in 2006. (Reuters)

State functions account for only a small portion of the shark fin market, according to Hexun, a Chinese analytical website. Most shark fin consumers are ordinary people who order the delicacy for family events like anniversaries. To protect and save the sharks, Hexun suggests strict bans on catching the fish.

We know lots of the links above are in Chinese. Want to learn more in English? Check out this New York Times article.

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