Recently I received a comment from one of our readers that made me think about something I’d come to believe would not be an issue for me in this country, namely the decision I’d made not to eat any products made with Shark Fin. This was something that I’d chosen to do and thought applied only while traveling in Asia. I made this decision because of the way the shark fin is harvested in a method known as “finning”, I was wrong to think it wasn’t an issue here.
Shark finning is a harvesting method consisting of cutting off the pectoral and dorsal fins of a shark, usually while it’s still alive. The animal is then discarded, thrown back into the water, causing the fin-less (and therefore immobile) fish to either suffocate due to the inability to swim or, be eaten alive by other sea creatures.
Of the more than 400 shark species in the world not a single one is immune to this and some researchers believe that quite likely within a decade, many shark species will become extinct as a direct result of this form of harvest. Fewer than 20 countries have banned shark finning. Canada is one of those which has done so yet strangely, while shark finning is illegal in Canadian waters, it is not illegal to sell shark fin products in this country. This is surprising, it turns out however that many of the items in Asian markets and many restaurants sold as Shark Fin are actually a manufactured substitute composed mainly of gelatin and fish, although several still sell the real thing. While this might seem to be a good thing the problem is that this only shows that the actual product is popular enough for the fake stuff to be profitable. This also makes the real thing very desirable to those who want to experience it. Ask anyone who has purchased a cubic zirconium if they would like a diamond.
The only real use of shark fin is in food and most commonly it’s used in soup, but also various salads etc. Shark Fin Soup dates back to ancient China and traditionally it has been a special dish served only rarely and is considered to be a symbol of prestige. The consumption of shark fin has increased markedly in SE Asia within the past 20 years and has spread to western society where it is now a staple at Asian restaurants in many countries. Interestingly the shark fin itself has no taste and is used mainly to add texture to a dish.
Because of the demand for shark fin the practice of finning is very profitable and many endangered species are harvested including the largest fish in the world, the Whale Shark whose huge fins can fetch $10,000 each on the Asian market where any shark fin will sell for $300 per pound. As with other species the body is discarded despite the fact that shark meat is a staple food for people of the developing countries in whose waters these sharks are harvested making this industry all the more wasteful.
Research is showing that in some cases the global populations of certain shark species has declined as much as 97-99% between 1970 and 2007 and continue to do so at an alarming rate. While we as a society are up in arms when a dolphin dies as the result of tuna fishing practices and have actually changed the way tuna is harvested as a result, the shark seems to not receive the same sympathetic response. It would be a real shame that entire species may very well become extinct simply to fulfil the desire to consume a product that has no real nutritional value and is easily substituted.
Well, now you have the knowledge, the question is will you do something with it. find out if your favorite restaurant or market sells real sharkfin and if so let them know that it’s not what you want. You can also simply choose not to order anything that contains it. either way you’re doing more than just standing by.
If you want more information on the subject of sharks and those fighting to save them check out this site for the award winning documentary “Shark Water” by Canadian film maker Rob Stewart.
thank you Tatiana for reminding me to think before I eat.