Shark Fin, Food for Thought


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.

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15 responses to “Shark Fin, Food for Thought

  1. Thanks so much for adressing this very important issue. The practice is needlessly cruel, non-sensical and has no place in our society for the simple fact that it’s so unnecessary.

    And the fact that mercury content in shark fins causes impotence in men is something to ponder too.

  2. Jean Giesbrecht

    Thank you RuneRider for continuing the process of educating yourself and your readers about issues that sometimes on the surface seem innocuous enough but in reality have a very sinister background and history. It is important for everyone who is embracing an ethical and responsible mindset for our lifestyles to continue to ring the warning bells and pass on what we have learned. It’s easy to make better choices once you know that you need to and what your options are.

    For the record, Superstore (Loblaws – The Weston Family) have decided to pull any products that either have the real or imitation shark fin. On the other hand, Costco as far as I understand, still does carry these products. Not only as consumers can we make specific choices about products but we can make bigger choices about the companies that receive our money. However, if you were going to not shop at Costco, for example, because of shark fin, I would encourage you to write to Costco and tell them. Public pressure DOES create positive change! Yeah!

    • Thanks for your input Jean. There are too many things happening in the world that are harmful and have no purpose greater than the generation of profit and adding simple pleasures to our lives.

  3. Wow! I had no idea, and am very glad to find this out and now be able to be aware and make better choices of it- especially as a traveler! \

    Thanks for the great article… how do we find out if a restaurant has this, though? I don’t imagine just asking any server would really do the trick.

    • We’re all in the same boat. I tend to think that only certain people in any given restaurant would know. Perhaps asking as if you are looking for the real thing would get enough interest for them to find out.

  4. Amen guys! It’s a horrific practice, for very little appreciable benefit. There are many shark fin substitutes available that i believe 99% (including myself) are unable to differentiate. My own personal belief is if we kill to eat, we should use all of the animal in a sustainable way.

    Great post!

    • Thanks for dropping by Foodosopher. Glad you liked the post. It was eye-opening for me to research this topic. This a little like the thing with wasabi in that I don’t believe those who eat the stuff know any better and don’t think about whether it’s real or not, they just like it. In this case however there is real harm being done due to this ignorance.

  5. Jean Giesbrecht

    Here’s a great link to assist with ethical choices for most of your consumer needs.

    http://www.caringconsumer.com/info_consumers.asp

    In addition to searching specific comapnies, you can email for a small booklet that fits into your purse/wallet that you can carry around while you are familiarizing yourself with companies that have made a committment to the ethical treatment of animals. PETA also has an extensive list of companies that you can shop from.

  6. You are wrong. Shark fin tastes great. many say they cannot taste the difference but you probably only had a little in the recipe. Ask the Chef to put a lot in and you will see why we need to use this.

    It should be reserved for when a dish is cooked properly meaning it should have a lot of Shark fin in it and then will be very expensive and only the rich people can afford it.

    When only the rich can eat it we will not have a problem with shark population numbers going down too much.

    If you cant afford it – dont pretend you can by ordering it in a lower class resturant. Better still buy it yourself and cook it then you will avoide the profit margins put on it by the resturants. Be sure not to eat it too often as the side effect of this is that it causes prostrate cancer. Dont be scared off by that – just dont eat it all the time but when you do – Go heavy…yummy

    • Thank you for the comment Sandy and for visiting us.

      I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with all you’ve said and point out that you are not only the one who is wrong but that by posting what you did you also show great arrogance. Your entire attitude on this subject is wrong on more than one level.

      It’s truly sad you feel simply because you enjoy eating something that it should be eaten. If you read my post with an open mind it’s hard to understand how you can still feel these beliefs are valid in any way. I’d recommend you actually do a little research prior to voicing opinions on subjects you have no knowledge of.

      Saying that making this a rich person only dish will fix the problem is simplistic in the worst way and disregards human nature and the fact that the majority who eat the dishes made with shark fin see it as a cultural fixture.

      I won’t lecture you further here or attempt to educate you, however I will state that based on what you’ve written it is in fact your beliefs and those who think likewise that happen to be what is wrong with society when it comes to this subject.

      Please don’t be offended by what may seem harsh words, I simply find your attitude and ignorance difficult to fathom.
      I truly hope that you don’t speak for any sort of majority in Austrailia.

  7. Um, RuneRider you are being too kind. Sandy, if you are for real, please go straight to a bridge and jump off. People like you are what’s wrong with the world. It’s all about you – your pleasure, your likes and dislikes. You are like a spoiled, ignorant child who does not think past her own nose to the consequences of her choices. The issue of shark fin isn’t only about shark numbers Sandy. It’s about cruelty. Which you seem to give about zero figs for. Nice. If only people like you weren’t so prevalent … We all make ignorant choices. Life is about living and learning. Those of us who care about our earth, the creatures who live in it (including humans) and its future, try to live in a way that continues to helps us to make better and better choices. Then there are the “sandys” of the world.

    Sigh.

    • In all honesty I thought I’d been too hard on Sandy. I’m very much for the belief that people have the right to express their own opinion. On further thought though I’ve decided that the ignorant and the uneducated should not speak on subjects for which their opinion has nothing on which to be based other than how they feel. If the subject deals with an important issue you need facts before forming an opinion.
      This is something I’ll only apply to these subjects that merit knowledge prior to commenting. If anyone wants to comment on a restaurant, recipe or review on ChowTown, their opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. The other slight exception might be a recipe I know to be great and authentic which I’ve spent a good deal of time on, you can only say these are great… 😉

  8. Great post, you’ve pointed out something that many just aren’t concerned about. While whales and dolphins get so much attention, sharks are often left out. I think we go to stop thinking of sharks as a vicious man eating monsters.

    I’m writing an essay about shark finning. Do you mind telling me the sources you used for the info? like 99% decline of sharks. Thank you!

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