Shark-finning: we should not push a species to extinction for a soup, right?

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Photograph courtesy of StopSharkFinning

By Pak Lun Lau

Out of the eight treasured seafood graded by Chinese, shark’s fin soup has always been my favorite delicacy at celebrations or gatherings. Not only does the variety of ingredients ensure a richness of its taste, the fins themselves provide an extra stringy texture for chewing. Whenever this dish is served, it guarantees that moment is the prime time of the banquet. All this was fine with me, until a year ago.

My feelings changed during a reunion of my friends last Christmas. The venue was a big Chinese restaurant ballroom with good karaoke facilities. My classmates all joined the party and we had a high time recalling the good old days. At last, a buddy made use of the big television at the venue and showed us a clip from YouTube entitled, “A Woman Missed Her Shark Fin Soup in Hong Kong.” It captured the attention of the entire crowd. Clearly, we all cherish this dish and wanted to see how much someone could miss this delicacy.

It was a scene taken at a local seafood restaurant for tourists. A woman in her thirties was complaining bitterly about the shop’s failure to offer her shark’s fin soup. She accused the other customers of selfishly consuming all of it. She got very emotional and rolled herself on the ground. She remarked that it was impossible for the restaurant to be sold out as there are so many fish in the sea.

When our shark’s fin soup was served that evening, the fun of the short film had immensely enhanced the flavor of the soup. Our affection for the choice food kept growing, and at the end of the reunion, we reached a consensus that we must share updated news about the delicacy in our future meetings.

Not long after that reunion, it was time for celebration of the Chinese New Year. My former classmates and I gathered together again for a feast and to exchange best wishes for prosperity, good health, and fortune. Everything went warm and fine. Then, one of the boys announced it was time for some entertainment. It was again a YouTube, “Gordon Ramsay Eats Shark Fins Soup for the First Time.” The chef from the F kitchen? Let the soup knock him… Everybody’s spirits were up; no one realized it would turn out to be a bombshell.

The critical chef, Ramsay, went to a special restaurant in Taipei to try the soup. His comments that the soup base was very good got a big round of applause from us. Soon, the clapping was replaced by booing and hissing, when he remarked that the fins tasted of nothing, like plain rice noodles.

He then stunned us by filming a shark fin processing plant, “a shark graveyard.” What really silenced us was his first-hand depiction of long-line shark fishing in the next scene of the video. It was hard to watch how sharks, especially baby sharks, are killed just for their fins. The strong waving and banging of their bodies really got to us.

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Photograph courtesy of wikicommons

After his experience, Ramsey successfully got approval from five leading restaurants in China Town to ban shark’s fin soup from the menu. And, he appealed for more support from diners. This information immediately raised a debate among us to see if it was justified to take his side.

My friends and I immediately began to surf the internet, seeking evidence, and this led us to another eye-opening recording, “Shark Fin Frontier.” In it, there were corpses of sharks lying around on the ocean floor. The underwater world was peaceful and quiet, and the dead sharks further enhanced the soundlessness and the still of another world. The seabed was literally littered with dead sharks, and some of those bodies had even swollen substantially. That sight haunted us all; we tried even harder to search online for details about the fin industry.

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Photograph courtesy of StopSharkFinning

Soon, we found video recordings like, “Over 73 Million Sharks Killed Every Year for Fins,” “Shark Finning Cruelty,” and “Shocking Video of Shark Fin Trade.” We were exposed to the fact that sharks are facing extinction as they have been vastly killed for their fins. We also found out that, in order to maximize profits by reserving ship space for fins rather than the no-value bodies, the sharks are forced to die a slow and painful death after the fishermen cut off their fins while they are alive. These sharks cannot move without fins, and either suffocate to death or are eaten by predators.

Later that evening, as usual, shark’s fin soup was offered to show respect, honor, and appreciation to the guests. However, when I glimpsed at the cuisine, unusual things happened. There were no more signs of chicken and fins. What I could see were just greed and brutality. The familiar pleasing look of the soup had totally gone off, mysteriously. When I took a sip of the dish, there was no more rich sense of sweetness, but a fishy taste of blood. The deliciousness of the food had suddenly vanished, and I realized that is should be the right time for me to stop eating shark’s fin soup.

In Chinese history, shark’s fin soup was reserved for emperors because it was delicious by rare. It might have been ok to eat the soup at that ancient time as there would have been only one king in one dynasty. But now, there are too many well-off people who can afford the dish.

I have no doubt that stopping the eating of shark’s fin soup will help curb the hunting of sharks. Yet, sometimes I have a craving for the dish, and there have been times that I would like to cheat. Luckily, I found a replacement, “imitation shark’s fin soup,” to help the hungry shark savers like myself.

The imitation version works well because the fins were practically tasteless. The rich flavor actually stems from the other ingredients in the soup. So, we can use a use a substitute for the shark’s fin–the rice noodle–the ingredient that tastes exactly like the genuine shark’s fin, just as claimed by chef Gordon Ramsay. Thanks to this imitation dish, I can stay away from the authentic delicacy.

Demand induces supply. I believe that, if we can curb the want of the real shark’s fin soup, there will be a diminishing demand, and not so many sharks will be killed just for their fins.

Giving up the eating of shark’s fin soup is indeed a personal means in helping preserve the endangered sharks. Besides eating less shark’s fin soup, I also urge everyone to join volunteer societies like StopSharkFinning, and to help strive for a worldwide ban on shark-finning. We should not push a species to extinction for a soup, right?

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Pak Lun Lau is an International Student at Centralia College in Centralia, Washington. He wrote this essay as his final for Composition 101.

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