Shark’s fin soup: Leave sharks alone for our good and theirs

By Gerard Wong

Cheah Hooi Giam of Penang (“Campaign lacks strong bite” — NST, Aug 20) concedes that sharks breed slowly and are over-harvested and endangered. But it is intriguing to see that he does not agree with the campaign against consuming shark’s fin soup.

Shark campaigners have never denied the fact that Western countries are guilty of depleting shark populations in their own waters.

In fact, shark conservationists in the West lobby their own people to stop shark game fishing, implement laws to prevent shark over-harvesting and enforce quotas and fishing-equipment regulations. At the same time, we cannot deny the Asian preference for shark’s fin soup.

Even if it were true that the majority of fins are not taken by the “shock and awe” tactic described by Cheah, the end product is the same: Whether eaten for the fins or the meat, sharks are being harvested for consumption and this will be detrimental to the marine ecosystem and in the long run, to ourselves.

As to the value of shark oil and shark cartilage as anti-cancer supplements and other health tonics, a search of the Internet will reveal that many of the sites trumpeting their nutritional and health benefits are connected to those who are making money out of their sale.

More alarmingly, national health authorities worldwide have warned against the consumption of large, top predators of the ocean such as sharks, swordfish and marlin because of their accumulated high mercury and other chemical contents.

These poisons can be detrimental when consumed by pregnant mothers as they can affect the nervous system of their foetuses. In men, an overdose of these chemicals has been proven to result in sterility.

Thus, other than to fatten the pockets of those who sell shark fins and shark-derived products, its consumption could be more hazardous to humans than is publicly acknowledged.

Just as the Western world should refrain from consuming and over-harvesting sharks, we in Asia should refrain from eating their fins, cartilage and oil.

Source: 4/9/07 NST Online – Letters