Shark’s fin soup: Campaign lacks strong bite

By Cheah Hooi Giam

Recent campaigns asking the public not to consume shark’s fin soup is based on cultural and personal prejudices. The anti-shark’s fin soup campaign is launched based on two premises:

• That shark’s fin soup is the main cause of the declining numbers of sharks; and,

• That harvesting shark’s fin by “live finning” is cruel.

The campaign ignores the fact that 20 countries take up 80 per cent of the world’s annual harvest of sharks (Britain, Spain, the United States and many European countries being among the top).

Most sharks are harvested for their meat but often as a by-catch in pelagic fisheries. Shark meat and oil are valuable commodities commonly consumed in many countries.

In fact, the Porbeagle shark and the Spiny dogfish, said to be endangered, have been fished by generations of fishermen in temperate waters (the UK and the US) and it is this over-harvesting that is causing their decline.

The meat from these sharks is prized in fish and chips shops. It is more appropriate for anti-shark’s fins campaigners to take their campaigns to the consumers of fish and chips.

Further, contrary to popular belief, shark cartilage is not harvested solely for shark’s fin soup. In fact, shark cartilage is used extensively, especially in North America, as an anti-cancer supplement.

A glance in the Internet shows thousands of sites selling shark cartilage supplement. The anti-fins campaign also regularly shows “shocking” film footage of “live finning” of sharks. “Live fin-ning” refers to the alleged removal of only the fins and throwing the carcass back into the sea.

In reality, live finning is not the norm. But, media image of this has been shown around the world to “shock and awe” people. However, even if live finning is practised, it is laughable if not hypocritical to suggest that this is a cruel way to harvest sharks. What animal species that humans consume does not involve bleeding that animal to death?

The fact that sharks breed slowly is not in dispute. The fact that they may be endangered due to over-harvesting is also not in dispute. But, to target shark’s fin soup as their cause of decline is to ignore the facts.

Source: 20/8/07 NST Online – Letters