Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Shark Fin Soup?

Posted by butalidnl on 17 November 2010

Shark Fin Soup – this is a common dish in Chinese restaurants, all over the world. When I was small, I didn’t really think too much of it. I thought that it was something like ox’s tongue, or pig’s stomach, where the whole animal was eaten, and this particular part was a specialty dish. Little did I know that this was far from being the case; and that the fin of the shark was the only part of the shark that is eaten, and that the rest of the shark got dumped in the ocean.

Those who harvest shark fins do so quite literally. They set up “long lines” at the sea, with bait and hooks, and then see what will bite. Often, they get sea turtles (another endangered species) or other kinds of fish. But they mainly get sharks. Then, the fisherman harvests the long line, discarding the turtles or other things they find in the line; when they get to a shark, they simply slice away the fins and dump the rest of the shark overboard. Thus, 95% of the shark is discarded, and only the 5% is kept for sale to the makers of shark fin soup.

This, in itself, is a terrible waste of good animal meat. It is similar to what poachers do to rhinos and elephants. The poachers only want the rhinos’ horn or the elephant’s tusk (for ivory). So, they shoot the rhino or elephant, take what they want, and leave the rest of the animal to rot. And these animals are endangered species, so these poachers are contributing to their eventual extinction. Terrible!

But the story does not end there. The sharks are mainly alive when they are taken in by the long line fishermen. So, when the shark finners take out their fins, they dump the still-alive sharks overboard, where they die a slow death.

While this has been going on for as long as the Chinese have been serving Shark Fin Soup, the recent economic boom in China has meant that there is a very big increase in the demand for shark fin soup. And this means that literally millions of sharks are killed yearly to satisfy this demand.

Jaws?
Sharks have a largely undeserved reputation for attacking humans. Out of the 360 species of sharks, only 4 species are involved in fatal unprovoked attacks on humans: the great white, tiger, bull and oceanic whitetip sharks. And even for these species, they rarely attack humans. Humans are simply not on the menu for sharks; we are too big to eat (animals are not wasteful, unlike humans), and we often have unnatural things like scuba gear etc which the shark senses as unappetizing. Sharks are not attracted to human blood; but they respond immediately to fish blood. Sharks may bite humans as a way of testing if we are edible; and this is usually when the human is acting like a fish (splashing in the water, or wearing something shiny).

To put things in perspective: In the United States, 3300 people drown each year, and 41 people die from being hit by lightning, and only 1 dies from a shark attack.  There are far fewer deaths from sharks than from lions and tigers, or even from hippos – but these other species are protected.

Apex Predators
Before people came around, sharks had been in the oceans for millions of years. They are the ocean’s “apex predators”, the animals at the top of the food chain. Now, it is humans who are above them in the food chain, and we are hunting them to the point where many shark species are on the brink of extinction.

Apex predators are very important to an ecosystem. If the apex predator is taken away from an ecosystem, the animals that they hunt will suffer from a population explosion, and this will have a detrimental effect on the overall environment. We have seen, for example, that taking away the lions or bears from an ecosystem results in the overgrazing of the land, and a negative chain reaction goes down the whole ecosystem.

There Should Be a Law
Actually, there is a proposed law on the killing of sharks [ GMA seeks ban on sale of shark fin soup ] House Bill 174, filed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, seeks to protect sharks and stingrays by prohibiting the killing, destroying, selling, purchasing, transporting and exporting of these endangered species. If this bill is passed, Sharks Fin Soup will be a thing of the past, at least in the Philippines.

I think it is important for the Philippines to pass such a law. The country benefits from eco-tourism, and sharks are an integral part of the marine ecology – without them, our corals and seas’ ecological balance will suffer, and we stand to lose potential eco-tourism income.  The whalesharks of Donsol, the Butanding, are also sharks, and they are a big source of tourism money.

Sharks, of course, are valuable beyond their eco-tourism potential. We should protect the world’s many species of animals simply because we need to be good stewards of nature, and we should not crowd out other species who share this world with us – especially not for a simple bowl of soup.

2 Responses to “Shark Fin Soup?”

  1. Thank you for this excellent article and plea to protect sharks in the Philippines!

  2. Jelaine said

    I share your sentiments… I hope Philippines and other countries would drop the crazy practice

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