Februray 16th heralds the Chinese Lunar New Year this year, and we wish all our chinese friends a happy and prosperous year ahead. However this time of year also sadly leads to a dramatic increase in demand for sharks fins for Shark Fin soup.
Initially consumed by the Chinese Emporer and aristocracy sharks Fin Soup has been around for centuries. With bowls of soup costing up to 100 dollars this delicacy infers status, and the generosity of the host serving it. As Chinese people migrated throughout Asia to Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau etc., and became more affluent the dish grew in popularity, with demand peaking between 2000 – 2005. The most popular events or occasions to serve the dish are wedding banquets, Chinese New Year, and business meetings.
Shark finning is both barbaric and wasteful, with fishermen slicing the fins from live sharks before discarding them back into the water to die a horrific death due to drowning, or suffocation. The fin accounts for just 2% of the shark, but takes up less room in the boat’s hold, increasing the payload.
Sharks are relatively slow to reach sexually maturity (between 5 – 25 years) and give birth to small litter sizes after a long gestation period varying between 6 – 22 months. With more than 200 species of shark being listed by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as endangered this overfishing and overexploitation of sharks is both unsustainable and catastrophic.
Studies show that humans kill an estimated 100 million sharks each year, and that approx. 73 million of these are for shark fin soup.
Shark Fin Soup
The shark fin itself (which is made of cartilage) is flavourless, so is added to a broth and is used just for texture. The fin has low nutritional value and is in fact likely to be detrimental to the health of the consumer since as apex predators sharks accumulate high concentrations of toxic substances such as mercury, methylmercury, cadmium and arsenic, long-term exposure to which can cause cancer, skin lesions, cardiovascular disease and neurological impacts in humans.
While consumers in mainland China, in particular the younger generations, have changed their behavior and are shunning sharks fin soup in response to awareness campaigns and a government ban an official banquets, shark fin soup remains on the menu in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and consumption is growing in places like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Macau.
A 2017 report by WildAid and Rapid Asia – “Shark Fin Demand in Thailand” surveyed Thai people (where 14% of the population are Sino-Thai) and discovered that 57% of urban Thais have consumed shark fin, with 29% having eaten it within the previous 12 months. Alarmingly, 61% said they will consume shark fin in the future, citing curiosity and having heard from others that it tastes good. A large portion of those surveyed remain unaware as to the magnitude and cruelty of the shark fin trade.
According to the Food Intelligence Centre Thailand, between 2012 and 2016, Thailand exported over 22,467 tonnes of shark fin and processed shark fin products, and imported over 450 tonnes.In 2015 alone, Thailand exported over 5,000 tonnes of shark fin, roughly equivalent to the amount that was imported into Hong Kong in that year. This data ranks Thailand as the world’s number one exporter of shark fins.
Peter Knights, WildAid CEO. “Our research shows that there is a strong need in Thailand to raise awareness of the wastefulness behind shark fin consumption and to reduce the demand for shark fin products. When the buying stops, the killing can too.”
It is critical to reduce demand by changing attitudes, so spread the word and find our more by joining us on our daily Shark Watch Snorkel Tour. It’s time to stop being afraid of sharks, and start being afraid for them.