By Benjamin Cost
In the debate over shark’s fin, one of China and the food world’s most inflammatory topics of discussion, we’ve seen the dire Discovery Channel statistics on finning, and the anti-shark’s fin campaign of the World Wildlife Foundation.
But now, in light of the recent wave of anti-shark’s fin sentiment kicked off by Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Group announcing their ban on shark’s fin, shark’s fin traders themselves are making their voices heard in a bold, and dare we say slightly ignorant manner.
“Shark fins represent our Chinese tradition”
Apparently unafraid to challenge official data on sharks, one Hong Kong shark’s fin monger, surnamed Kwong, who vends the traditional staple on Des Voeux Road (the epicenter of all dried delicacies), states, “Talk of a dramatic decline in shark populations around the world is rubbish.”
Too bad those “pesky” statistics reveal that in fact, now over 180 shark species are considered threatened compared to only 15 fewer than twenty years ago.
Nonetheless, Kwong labels the “dastardly” facts myths employed in an environmentalist terror campaign targeting Chinese industry types such as himself, whom he believes are the only ones keen to the actual shark fin score.
Unfortunately, unlike the deep sea where shark’s fin is harvested, Kwong’s arguments in favor of shark’s fin consumption hold little water, including such statements as “shark fins represent our Chinese tradition…it used to be served only to royalty and is, even now, a very luxurious cuisine.”
Because if we’ve learned anything from history, “traditional” (foot-binding, slavery etc) is always analogous to “right.”
Kill or be killed
At least he doesn’t stoop to the level of some of his fellow finners, whose knowledge of sharks make Kwong seem like the next Jacques Cousteau. As claimed by another Des Voeux Road trader, “It’s not cruel at all killing sharks. There are so many sharks out there and if you don’t kill them, they will kill you.”
We can only assume that while everyone else was watching Shark Week, he was hiding under the covers during a Jaws series marathon.
However, not all arguments make you want to transform shark traders into their ocean-dwelling livelihood just so you can amputate their fins. As Kwong points out, “For some people in the older generation like me, we depend on selling shark fins as our source of income.”
A valid point, but one that will evoke little sympathy in a world where 73 million sharks are slaughtered annually to satisfy the planet’s insatiable shark’s fin soup appetite and where each year over 20,000 tons of dried fins are distributed throughout the globe, with Hong Kong alone being responsible for half of the trade.
Changing of the tide
The numbers have become so alarming that even China’s hotels, popular venues for Chinese wedding banquets where serving shark’s fin soup is customary, have begun scrapping the dish from their menus with the justification that shark’s fin harvesting is not only cruel but environmentally detrimental.
In addition to the Peninsula Hotels banning shark’s fin, the Swissotel Beijing has also struck the delicacy from their menu. Restaurant chain South Beauty was ahead of the curve, banning shark’s fin back in September, while the Four Seasons, Conrad, Nikko and Regal Hong Kong hotels will only serve shark’s fin by request.
However, the Howard Johnson Caida Plaza Shanghai refused one engaged man’s request to remove shark’s fin from the menu during his wedding at the hotel next year, proving that shark’s fin die-hards are not yet willing to relinquish their marine bread and butter.
But hopefully, as more hotels drop shark’s fin and encourage wedding banquet feeding frenzies directed at other traditional Chinese fare like abalone and bird’s nest, the tide will finally turn in the shark’s favor.