Shark’s fin soup – to eat or not to eat?

By Serina Rahman

A number of Chinese restaurants and chefs have embraced the growing call to stop serving shark’s fin soup and have removed the item from their menus.

In Sabah , Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Karim Bujang was reported to have said that the government no longer serves shark’s fin soup at official functions. Sabah ’s Anglers Association is said to have called for a ban on the serving of shark’s fin soup at all restaurants. A number of environmentally-aware hotel restaurants have also taken to suggesting fish maw and fish lips as a replacement for shark’s fin soup at wedding dinners.

This slow but gradually-growing pool of people who no longer see the need for ostentatious symbols of affluence is a source of encouragement for conservationists who would rather see the fin remain on the shark than in a bowl of chicken soup.

It is hard to convince everyone that there is a need to decline a bowl of shark’s fin soup however. There will always be those who unflinchingly argue for the need to retain tradition and culture and those in positions of influence who assert that there is no shame in eating the soup.

It is true that some environmentalists take things too far in their bid to convert the average man and that eco-terrorism is unnecessary and often harmful.

But the sad fact is that modern fishing practices are raping our seas much faster than they can be repopulated. In the case of sharks, their slow maturity and protracted reproductive cycle ensures that the speed at which they are being harvested – whether for meat or for just their fins – is a sure-fire recipe for their eventual extinction.

On top of that, there is the possibility that the shark fin that lines your bowl of chicken soup was retrieved in an incomparably cruel manner. Divers and anglers alike have often reported finless carcasses of sharks, the remains of those who had been hauled onto a fishing boat alive, finned (or in our terms – amputated) then tossed back into the sea – still alive – but left to drown or bleed to death.

If animal cruelty is not enough to make you put the spoon down then consider the scientific evidence found by health authorities in the UK, US, New Zealand, Thailand and even Hong Kong that show that the mercury content in large top predators such as the shark can be dangerous to humans, possibly leading to damaged nervous systems and even infertility.

There are many arguments against the consumption of shark’s fin soup: environmental, scientific or purely economical (not serving shark’s fin soup at a wedding saves the host about RM1000 per table), yet not everyone is convinced. We can only hope that it will not take the complete annihilation of this spectacular species to prove to the disbelievers that we should’ve all just said no to shark’s fin soup.

This article is the first in a series of shark-related content brought to you by the Marine SIG (Selangor Branch) as part of our Fins – Best on Sharks campaign.