SOS: Save Our Sharks


(If you find this post informative, you might like to check out these.)


Please help the sharks, help ensure Sherman’s Lagoon will always have a Shark who has kin beyond it. All it takes is a bit of your time, some doodling, an envelope, and a stamp. You have a lot of time to get it done too, all the way to October.

Click on picture to see original artwork, and find out more on how to help. (Filched off Dawn’s blog)

Consider these facts about sharks’ fin, the dish:

  • Sharks’ fin is cartilage. That is, it is TASTELESS by itself. What gives Sharks’ fin soup its taste? All the soup stock, crab, and other expensive ingredients added to it (which are usually threatened or endangered too – many fisheries are on the brink or collapsed, so much so that sustainable seafood is starting to look like a facsimile of the Holy Grail). Appreciators of Shark’s fin soup are really in the same league as that duped auntie who dug, for as long the slurping lasted, Stone Soup (the version I remember tells of an old traveller who managed to weasel his way into getting the old wretched lady of the house who grudgingly took him in for the night into opening her deceptively decrepit cupboards to not only make a fantabulous soup but also to lay out a spread fit for a royal get-together. He left early the next morning, graciously leaving the magic stone behind for the old lady whose mind finally digested the gist of the sham with the warming light).
  • Sharks are dying because of indiscriminate, wasteful ways of catching sharks which endanger other marine life, and cruel fin-harvesting methodology
    • The latest estimates show that as many as 73 million sharks are killed yearly for the shark fin industry, and the animals’ slow reproductive rates make them extremely vulnerable to extinction. The inhumane and wasteful methods used to acquire shark fins are just as disturbing. Because of weak laws and poor enforcement, millions of sharks are “finned” while still alive, and their helpless bodies are thrown back into the water, where they endure long, painful deaths from suffocation, blood loss or predation by other species. (Source)
  • Mercury poisoning is rife in seafood. The higher up the food-chain an animal is, the higher the mercury levels in its body. No prizes for guessing where the shark figures in the mercury poisoning billboard, and certainly none for figuring where WE stand.

This is a list of known articles and letters to the press about the sharks’ fin in Singapore. incidentally, last Friday’s issue of mypaper carried a commentary by Miss Esther Au Yong called “Save Sharks, But Also Save Our Culture”. Her impetus for writing this piece seem to be the recent Asian Dive Expo where the plight of sharks was highlighted. While I applaud her for seeing the immediacy of how the sharks’ survival is tied with the availability and gourmet status of sharks’ fin soup, I strongly disagreed with her caveat that shark’s fin soup can be revived when shark numbers are sustainable again – there is no eating sharks’ fin soup without guilt, not unless we want to see the day the marine-ecosystem collapse arrive sooner. Her rationale for wanting to keep the day of lifting her proposed sharks’ fin ban in sight is to preserve the dish’ status as a cultural heritage of the Chinese.

(ADDED to clarify and avoid confusion like comment-leaver no 3 seem to be in) Sharks ARE disappearing as fin chopping rises. As long as the problems that caused sharks to be fished and finned so wantonly remains, ie demand for sharks’ fin and a willingness on consumers’ part to PAY for it, somebody will fish for and fin sharks, to hell with sustainability and humane methods of harvesting. The domino effect will ensure that other marine animals sharing the same neighbourhood as sharks will be affected too, and they won’t even get the dignity of being labelled by-catch, that is a term more often tagged on to, ironically, sharks. More and more sharks are in the danger zone of extinction. While this may not seem like something of concern for the man in the street, it should be. It’s like taking blocks recklessly out of the Jenga pile – how many times can you cry “Jenga” before it collapses?

As a Chinese, I feel that sharks’ fin is tastelessly expensive, an unsustainable enterprise that gourmands condone at the deteriment of the environment. Whether shaks’ fin soup is considered a delicacy is all in the mind; whether something is worth preserving is a question best viewed with logic, compassion and a dash of Zen. Slavery, male chauvinisms, the binding of women’s feet, the ‘virture’ of uneducated females, imperialism, polygamy, feudalism. All these are intimately tied to Chinese culture, history and the racial psyche. They were integral aspects. Do we, in the name of preserving culture, call for the revival of these parts of the Chinese cultural heritage?

Besides, sharks fin soup being the pricey dish that it is, I can’t imagine anyone happier than the restaurant serving the dish at every wedding reception (the groom is probably wincing at the debt he’s incurred to throw the banquet, while the bride would have no idea of what food is as she goes on her costume-changing roundabout). In spite of the sensitivity created by the on-going Chinese/anti-Chinese sentiments surrounding the Beijing Olympics, I say that Miss Au Yong’s call for ban-revival is so much “Cultural justification my foot“. We should just ban it, period, just like bear-bile farming.

I think the vaulted “mark of prestige at our scions’ wedding” pedestal eager Chinese parents insist on shoving the dish onto, is a very funny joke considering that you see this banner at EVERY single pasar malam (flea market in areas outside Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia), touting sharks’ fin soup for a dollar or two. Peanuts compared to restaurant prices.

PasarMalam_Sharksfin_20070916_01x

There’s even halal sharks’ fin soup.
PasarMalam_Sharksfin_20070915-1y

Don’t think I am not sympathetic of couples who would like to exclude sharks’ fin from their banquet but instead bow to parental pressure to include it. My cousin, who’s a foodie’s foodie is getting married this August. When he announced wedding plans, which included a menu with no shark’s fin soup, btmao and I dragged dropped jaws around for a month. It’s not just his reputation as a bottomless gut, but also his mothers’ sterling traditional view on prestige. We had never thought it could happen with him, especially not when our own sister meekly accepted and went along with her in-laws’ assumption of sharks’ fin appearing as wedding banquet dish number 2. But between the initial announcement and Chines New Year, he caved in to his mother’s demand to include sharks’ fin soup. I am disappointed, but not surprised. Filial piety exacts much obligations, even unto our moral stands. I just wish all these couples HAD witnessed first hand the shark fishing/finning. That might have stiffened their resolve to stick to their decision to say NO to sharks’ fin soup.

Perhaps there is a way out of the conundrum. As a converted vegetarian, I have tasted sharks’ fin soup, both bona-fide and mock. The difference? Mock tastes much better, in my view. No fishy or funny smell, and certainly no ickety feeling as the fin slide down your throat. You CAN find great tasting mock sharks’ fin, you just have to look (like us minions did). Mock fins are healthy too, being made from finely slicing a melon that’s called colloquially, sharks’ fin melon.

Walking the talk and speaking up against something taken for granted is difficult, as Hong Kong University’s vice chancellor found out, but it shouldn’t stop us, it must not stop us. Get doodling!

(For any who have not had the misfortune to taste sharks’ fin soup, you really aren’t missing anything.)

ADDITIONAL REF


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14 responses to “SOS: Save Our Sharks

  1. Also consider checking out this documentary on the illegal shark finning being controlled by the Taiwanese mafia.

    http://www.amazon.com/Sharkwater-Rob-Stewart/dp/B0013D8LHW

  2. Autumnpiglet

    I’ve actually stopped eating Sharks’ Fins for a few years now. But I do find the Western Media’s protrayal a little hypocritical, especially since they do sell and eat Shark’s meat.

    An alternative to Sharks Fins at wedding dinners, might I suggest Lobster Bisque or something similar. My cousin got married a few years ago and dropped Sharks Fins from the menu. However, for “face” sake, there had to be an equivalent replacement, hence lobster bisque. It was well-received by all.

  3. If shark numbers are sustainable again why would eating sharks’ fin soup again cause the collapse of the marine ecosystem?

    And not everyone shares your distaste of the soup. Many enjoy the texture and don’t mind (or like) the taste you loathe.

  4. Tammy,
    Thanks for that.

    Autumnpiglet,
    Good on you. I remember all the queer looks I get when I refuse my bowl. I also remember one dinner where there’s maybe 50 tables, and at the end of the sharks’ fin soup service, the waiters accumulated the uneaten portions and came away with more than 10 tables’ worth of untouched slop. Bloody waste!

    Agagooga,
    Simple really, just as I’ve said:

    Sharks are dying because of indiscriminate, wasteful ways of catching sharks which endanger other marine life, and cruel fin-harvesting methodology

    * The latest estimates show that as many as 73 million sharks are killed yearly for the shark fin industry, and the animals’ slow reproductive rates make them extremely vulnerable to extinction. The inhumane and wasteful methods used to acquire shark fins are just as disturbing. Because of weak laws and poor enforcement, millions of sharks are “finned” while still alive, and their helpless bodies are thrown back into the water, where they endure long, painful deaths from suffocation, blood loss or predation by other species. (Source)

    I can’t find the stats on it, but I believe that if you gathered all the sharks’ fin ever harvested, eaten or in storage right now and try to match them to body-parts, ie other shark products out there or consumed, you would have a damn lot of fins without owners.

    When you invent a trawl net or long-line that only hooks sharks, and a way of finning sharks without wasting the rest of it, then sure, have all the sharks’ fin soup you can gobble. I’d say bon appetit to you too.

    One man’s meat is another’s poison. In addition, imo, the dish too over-hyped, and certainly overpriced. Who benefits from the sharks’ fin trade really?

  5. If you say coming away with 10 tables’ worth of soup is a bloody waste, isn’t the conclusion that people should eat the Sharks’ Fin?

    If shark numbers are sustainable, by definition eating sharks’ fin soup again cannot result in the collapse of the marine ecosystem. That’s what sustainable means.

    Your arguments about not eating Sharks’ Fin soup are contradictory. You say harvesting the fins is cruel and there’s a danger of extinction, then you say if there’s no waste and collateral damage, you’d welcome others eating Sharks’ Fin soup. You can’t have it both ways.

    One man’s poison is also another man’s meat. And the people who benefit from the sharks’ fin trade are the same as those who benefit in all other trades.

  6. That made me laugh. I see your mode of operation now so I’m going to do the sensible thing and simply leave you to your own pleasures.

  7. Perhaps Esther Au Yong who called “Save Sharks, But Also Save Our Culture”, should also call for preservation of other Chinese cultural practices such as binding feet!
    If we cite culture as a reason not to change, then we have no right to ask the Japanese to stop killing the whales!
    We must change our “culture” with knowledge of the ecosystem and not die-die stick to old ways!
    By choosing to be ignorant and not realise that even a pair of disposable chopsticks is “disaster”, we spelling the demise of the human race.
    We are just being culturally stupid!

  8. The original article appeared in the ST. And I’m not surprised at the depth of ignorance the writer has displayed about the nature of consuming sharks’ fins.

    We do not eat bear paws, nor tiger penises. These are inglorious remnants of our culture that should be thrown away and never revived.

    However, seeing how capitalist the world works, perhaps a fair compromise would be sustainable shark farming.

    Only farm bred sharks should be slaughtered and in entirety, fins, meat and all.

  9. vegancatsg,
    Truly, if only humans stop with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude and SEE. And having seen, if only the ones who do see are able to get behind a cause without the need to insert caveats. What are we afraid of? If the earth goes, so much for petty considerations like culture preservation.

    Celluloidrealitys,
    Thanks for the info on the article’s origin.

    I would agree with your backing on farming sharks, except we have precedents in salmon farming to show that fish farming may cause more harm than good to both the species and the environment (more here), even to the double-edged points of creating antibiotic resistant superbugs, and eroding the local poor’s ability to feed themselves, vis-a-vis biodiesel fuels.

    The ecological price is too high. I’ve watched The Blue Planet, the BBC series, and in its last episode, Deep Trouble, current methods of getting fish on the dinner table are examined, and each had its attendant problems.

    The only way that was shown to be effective was the creation of a true no-fishing marine life haven. This happened in New Zealand 25 years ago. Now the haven is so rich in life, animals are leaving it to establish territories outside, and fishermen fish these immigrants. That is, imho, the only way to sustainability. So it seems abstinence and a total ban is still the best way to go.

    (That episode of Blue Planet is the starkest, but also the most informative and arresting, imo, just for the immediacy of the issues discussed. I believe Arts Central is just started screening the series at 10pm on Wednesday nights. Do keep a lookout if you’re keen to see for yourself)

  10. Calsifer,

    Sorry, it’s not in ST, but Mypaper as hinted above. However, the writer has written for ST before.

    I’ve watched the Blue Planet series and they bring up very valid points. However, as much as we’d love to secure the natural heritage of our planet 100%, it’s often impossible to do so.

    So let’s not dismiss Plan B, but if we could go all the way, it’ll be better of course.

  11. Well, the only problem with all the Plans B that’s surfaced so far seem to be that they’re not solutions, just molding new shapes around the root causes. Sigh.

  12. Hello,

    First of, I have also dropped out of eating sharks fins for quite a long while, but I am not vegetarian, although I do feel that ifs something one can aspire towards.

    On the point of the letter by Miss Esther, I agree that its incorrect to say that we should preserve sharks fins eating to “preserve” the Chinese culture, if that is the case, then we should also promote eating of monkey brains and reinstate a Chinese emperor.

    However, I think that is a matter of taste and personal opinion whether or not shark fins by itself is nutritious or not, we eat a lot of tasteless and non-nutritious food and transfat in our diets too, shouldn’t those be banned also?

    My own opinion is that if shark fishing ever becomes sustainable (i.e. in balance) and that the whole shark is used for food and not just fins, then this should be as legitimate produce practice as other sustainable fishing techniques.

    Agagooga point is not really against your points, rather it seeks to create a balance based on a broader perspective, whereas for non-vegetarians and even non-environmentally aware persons, the approach towards such issues is sometimes akin to being brainwashed in Jesus camp, you are either in or out, there is no middle path, no negotiation, if you even think that sharks fin is okay you are either stupid, ignorant, evil hearted or the devil in disguise.

  13. Saltwaterfish,
    Good on you. Re vegetarianism… I am trying to keep on the straight and narrow, it’s not easy but not an impossibility. The important thing, as with all else, is to make a start. 🙂

    However, I think that is a matter of taste and personal opinion whether or not shark fins by itself is nutritious or not, we eat a lot of tasteless and non-nutritious food and transfat in our diets too, shouldn’t those be banned also?

    Personally, I feel they should be, or be regulated in a stricter fashion than is being done now, eg cigarettes. But that’s the world for you.

    My own opinion is that if shark fishing ever becomes sustainable (i.e. in balance) and that the whole shark is used for food and not just fins, then this should be as legitimate produce practice as other sustainable fishing techniques.

    As I said to celloidrealitys in a previous comment, I also agree, but the problem is that none of the so-called sustainable fishing methodology seems to be genuinely effective except for one, and its certainly no instant fix..

    Agagooga point is not really against your points, rather it seeks to create a balance based on a broader perspective

    I find your comments rather easier to understand and appreciate than Agagooga, and I thank you for that. I agree with your last analogy too, which is why I feel that people accept official word as gospel too readily, AND prefer to wallow in ignorance, even brainwashing memories of unpleasant realities out of their waking consciousness.

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