Experts know that shark fin soup 鱼翅汤 (yú chì tāng) is a traditional and regal dish, as the delicacy received mention in the imperial history books called the 《宋会要》 (sòng huì yào). In the recent past, this dish was impossible for the average person to try. Thanks to China’s opening up to globalization and a more capitalist market, every Chinese person with a few extra dollars can have this imperial dish. “Everyone can live like an emperor if they want” is the way of the modern Chinese lifestyle. At large family gatherings, such as weddings, the father–and others–would like to foot the bill for an extravagant portion of tiger penis, swallow nest soup, and/or shark fin soup. It is a culture of generosity and, sometimes, extravagance, coupled with face-value; “I have something that you do not have.”
Although the international community has become more aware since 2011 of the negative effects that the Asian delicacy shark fin soup has had on the ecosystem, there is still a huge effort required to resolve this problem.
In 2013, the Chinese government banned shark fin soup fr
om entering government dining tables. Canada and California (both with large Asian populations) also banned the soup.
There seems to be a long way to go before the average person agrees to taking this food off of the market; many traditional Chinese medicine/ingredients stores still sell a variety of shark fins. Many do not believe what they are eating is the “real” shark fin, which is furthering the problem. Some of the confusion concerning the issue is in part because of the name of the dish in Chinese, “fish fin soup”, not “shark fin soup.” However, approximately 100 million sharks are killed for make this dish every year. Therefore, much of what is made on the market is likely to be the real deal, with as many at 90% of mid and high-tier restaurants in Hong Kong still offering shark fin soup.
Shark meat is of no particular interest on the market and, as the picture illustrates at the top, most of these sharks are thrown back into the water after having their fins cut off. The shark is unlikely to survive for very much longer, and the fishermen can clear their conscience this way, claiming that they did not actual kill any of these sharks.
Unfortunately, there is little that can be done from the sidelines. Chinese people will need to make this effort themselves to regulate the market to prevent further damage to the shark species. Some restaurants have already stopped selling real shark fin soup and have replaced it with alternatives, such as grainy fillers, less endangered fish species’ fins, or even hardened fish stomach (鱼肚 yú dǔ). On a personal level, we can all reject even trying this soup, as the fin itself is tasteless; the flavor is actually from the soup base.
Why not just order something else then?