Shark’s fin soup continues to be a stubborn mainstay of wedding banquets. This practice therefore continues to decimate shark numbers. Here, newly-weds share why and how they had shark-friendly weddings.
“We finally got married! When we decided on the wedding banquet menu, we broke with tradition and didn’t serve shark’s fin soup, or any dish with shark’s fin as an ingredient.
Please browse through our website to understand why we did this, and how we got away without upsetting any of our guests who expected the dish to be there.”
The wedding banquet
To many Chinese, a wedding banquet is not complete without shark’s fin soup and many couples feel under pressure from parents or in-laws to stick to the tradition of serving shark’s fin.
According to Chinese tradition, shark’s fin is considered one of the eight treasured foods from the sea – a precious food fit for an emperor, a symbol of wealth. Therefore, many traditionalists would be concerned that their guests would be insulted and they would be considered as “cheap” if the soup was left out.
Despite traditional views, many progressive couples (including of other religions) are choosing not to serve shark’s fin soup. One reason is that as societies become more affluent, the increase in demand for shark fins is leading to unsustainable levels of fishing. This is threatening certain shark species and disturbing the marine ecological balance due to the shark’s valuable role as top predator.
In addition, the increase in demand and price of the fins encourages the terribly wasteful and cruel practice of shark fining; the shark’s fins are removed when they are caught and the bulky body of the shark tossed overboard, leaving the shark to die. This practice is contrary to the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and has been made illegal in some countries.
ABOUT THE COUPLES
Yeen & Julian own a dive centre and run their business as environmentally sustainably as they can. When teaching divers they emphasise the need for divers to respect the marine environment and marine life – naturally they chose not to serve shark fin soup at their wedding. Yeen: “It’s an auspicious occasion and should not include dishes that contain something so brutally killed.”
Su-Ann & Si Siew’s wedding was attended by around a thousand people, including royalty. Su-Ann faced a challenge to persuade her mother-in-law to support her decision not to serve shark’s fin. Su-Ann convinced her that it’s not so unusual to serve an expensive replacement dish like scallop and mushroom soup. Su- Ann has not eaten shark’s fin for over 10 years, rather than actively voicing her opinions she prefers to discuss the shark’s fin issue when the topic arises and over the years she has managed to convince some friends and family to refrain from eating shark’s fin too.
Ren & Yein. Dr Leong supported his son Ren and daughter-in-law Yein’s choice not to serve shark’s fin soup.
Dr Leong also had to convince the caterer who had said to him, “Without shark’s fin, the dinner ‘jatuh’ standard!” (Without shark’s fin, the standard of the dinner will fall!). After attempting to enlighten him, the caterer begrudgingly respected the family’s decision. After all, the family was the ones paying for the dinner!
The caterer reluctantly admitted that in reality shark’s fin soup is actually cheaper than some substitutes. This is because the shark’s fin soup is in name only. Often inferior grade or even fake shark’s fin is used! The caterer makes a killing supplying this fake or substandard stuff but guests don’t know better.
As for the guests, they were not surprised by the family’s decision as Dr Leong once served as Chairman of Science and Conservation for the Malaysian Nature Society and is well known and respected for his strong conservation ethic shared by Ren and Yein.
Dr Leong reflected their feelings poetically in his speech:
“We pray that your love will encompass more than one another, more than family, relatives, friends, patients. Let it encompass every living creature on this earth, great or small, mighty or insignificant, common or preferred. If we do not have shark’s fin soup today it is not because we cannot afford it or that we want to deny our guests. It is because in our hearts there is a place for one of God’s endangered creatures. Let your love also encompass all the non-living things of this earth, for their beauty and their sustenance of life on earth. Love the stars, the sun, the moon and sky, the seas, the wind, the waters, even the rocks and stones. For in doing so you will truly understand and become part of the universe, you will find your place.”
Shiauway and Adam are divers and avid marine lovers, who have come to appreciate the beauty and value of sharks all the more since diving. They realised that by not serving shark’s fin soup at their wedding they were making a much bigger impact than they were able to make previously by just refusing to eat it personally. The couple was lucky, as their family, aware of their views, did not object to their decision. To explain their choice to their guests Shiauway and Adam decided to print their own personalised thank you card with a ‘say no to shark’s fin’ message.
Shiauway: “You might face a bit of objection here and there, but if you know what you are doing is right, you will succeed in carrying it through.”
Managing expectations…the reason behind these table cards
Displaying the table cards on wedding banquet tables that tactfully explain why shark’s fin soup has been omitted from the menu is one of many things proposed by the group behind the “Fins – Best on Sharks” campaign.
In its “Fins – Best on Sharks” campaign, the Malaysian Nature Society Selangor Branch’s Marine Group hopes to educate people about the plight of the shark (and the demise of many species of shark), its importance as a key component of the marine ecosystem and to correct popular misconceptions about shark’s fin soup.
Michael & I-Li, 28.12.07
Why shark’s fins will not be on our wedding banquet menu…
A recent study published in the US Journal of Science predicted the collapse of the entire marine ecosystem by 2048. That date is well within our lifetimes. While individuals may wield little power over global fishing and trawling industries, we can make daily decisions that add up to a powerful economic force that can halt the over-exploitation of our oceans. In particular, individuals have the ability to prevent the unnecessary decimation of shark stocks by refusing to order and eat shark’s fin soup.
Did you know?
There is no ‘special taste’ to shark’s fin soup. Its flavour comes from the chicken stock that it is cooked in. There is no nutritional value to shark’s fin soup either.
That’s not all we found out…
Shark finning is a cruel process. Live sharks are hauled on board a ship, their fins are sliced off and the rest of the shark is often thrown back to sea, still alive but left to drown and die a slow and painful death. This technique helps to preserve precious freezer space for only the most valuable part of the shark – its fin.
Importance of sharks in our world
Sharks are apex predators and a cornerstone species in the marine ecosystem. Their demise would kick start a domino effect which could result in the depletion of other fish species and changes in marine species composition and diversity. This imbalance in the marine ecosystem, which will then affect our future ability to depend on the sea as a source of food.
Sharks such as hammerheads, thresher sharks and whale sharks are valuable tourist attractions, attracting divers to an area and providing an incentive to protect their habitat and in doing so protecting many other species and important ecosystems.
Though they’ve been around for more than 400 million years, they are at greater risk …
The World Conservation Union says 65 out of 373 known shark species are threatened.
The demand for shark’s fin soup has sky-rocketed as a result of growing affluence in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.
Since fins are a high value, low volume product and easier to handle and store than shark meat, some fisheries, often illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU), target sharks in order to retain the fins and discard the meat. A practice that is extremely wasteful and is inhumane if finning occurs while the shark is still alive.
Changes in fishing technology over the last 30 years and increased economic development have lead to increased numbers of sharks being caught.
Recent research based on an investigation of shark fins sold at auction in Hong Kong (which is the world’s largest fin market) has estimated annual shark catches to be between 26 million and 73 million sharks with the species most at risk being the blue shark, hammerheads and silky sharks. These figures are much higher than official records of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) the discrepancy being due unreported catches of sharks by unregulated (IUU) fisheries.
Sharks are highly vulnerable to overexploitation due to their longevity, late maturity and slow reproduction rates.
Bless people with good health instead of…
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Hong Kong Consumer Council have released warnings related to levels of contamination in shark products.
The US FDA warns that mercury levels in shark meat are high enough to harm the nervous system of unborn babies. Shark fin sold in Hong Kong and tested in the US were found to contain 5.84 parts per million (ppm) of mercury. Hong Kong’s maximum permitted level of mercury contamination in foodstuffs in 0.5ppm.
What people can do to make a difference
Due to limited available data on shark fishing intensities there are uncertainties with regard to the current conservation status of many species of shark.
Consumers of shark’s fin soup cannot know for sure whether by buying shark’s fin they are contributing to the extinction of shark species or whether the shark fin they are eating was taken from the shark while it was still alive. Thus we urge you to refrain from the consumption of shark’s fin and help us inform others:
Refuse the next bowl of shark’s fin soup offered to you and explain to your friends and family why you have decided to do so.
Get in touch with stories of how you chose to not serve shark’s fin soup at your wedding and how you overcame any repercussions of your decision.
Send us recipes for alternatives to shark’s fin soup.
Sources of facts, photos and figures:
1. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (2006) – Conservation and management of sharks – Trade-Related Threats to Sharks (AC22 Doc. 17.3) Available online: http://www.cites.org
2. Clarke, Shelley C., McAllister, Murdoch K., Milner -Gulland, E. J., Kirkwood, G. P., Michielsens, Catherine G.J., Agnew, David J., Pikitch, Ellen K., Nakano, Hideki & Shivji, Mahmood S. (2006) Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets. Ecology Letters 9 (10), 1115-1126. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2006.00968.x
Alternatives to shark’s fin soup:
- Double boiled chicken soup with Chile abalone – Michael & I-Li’s wedding, 28.12.07.
- Imitation shark’s fin soup – the fin is made up of mung bean vermicelli or gelatin which is cooked in chicken broth.
- Double-boiled ginseng soup
- Sweet and sour soup
- Shark’s fin squash and crab meat broth
Contributed by Lily Ng
Shark’s fin squash is actually the spaghetti squash. Its flesh resembles strands of shark’s fin, hence the recipe’s name. Click here for those who have never seen one before.
100g crab meat
200 gm spaghetti squash (baked and remove flesh with a fork)
4 cups chicken broth
1 egg (whisked)
1 tbsp Hua Tiau wine
1 clove garlic sliced
1 tbsp Brandy
1 tbsp of black or red vinegar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
1 tbsp cornflour mix with 3 tbsp water.
1. Heat up 1 tbsp of oil, stir fry garlic until fragrant and discard, sizzle Hua Tiau wine.
- Pour in broth and bring to the boil, add crab meat, squash and seasoning and mix well, bring to the boil again.
- Thicken with cornflour solution, mix well with beaten egg.
- Add in brandy and vinegar before serving.
DOWNLOAD TABLE CARDS
We are letting couples download the card templates for free to print it themselves – either on their home printer or professionally at a printing shop.
Thank you to the couples who have supported the “Fins-Best on Sharks” campaign and who have shared with us your photos and anecdotes. Congrats on your wedding!