Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shark fin soup seen at fewer Hong Kong weddings

Shark fin soup is a customary wedding dish in China - serving it honors the wedding guests, and it is seen as a symbol of wealth and prestige.

The problem with shark fin soup is that the shark catches are not tracked, so there's the possibility that the fins come from an endangered species. In addition, shark finning is a brutal practice; sharks are caught, their fins are cut from their bodies, and then they are thrown, live, back into the ocean. Obviously, sharks cannot survive without their fins.

Currently, there's a lot of pressure to remove shark fin soup from restaurant and wedding menus, and it might be effective. Several social campaigns are running against the soup tradition:

-Several hotels offer discounts, cheaper room rates, and other incentives for couples that choose not to serve shark fin at their wedding celebrations.

-One online campaign calls on wedding guests to reduce cash gifts by about a third for couples who select the dish.

-Last year campaigners persuaded Citibank Hong Kong to withdraw a promotion offering new credit card holders discount on a shark fin dinner.

- On the mainland Yao Ming, the Chinese NBA star, has appeared in a well-received campaign to end finning, the practice of removing a shark's highly valued fins and dumping what is left into the sea.

Yao Ming and his bride. Keep reading for Mingossip.

Finally, the soup is dropping in popularity.

The manager of one Sheung Wan wholesaler, who asked not to be named, said traders were beginning to feel the impact of the environmental campaign. "Sales are dropping and I think that is down to the campaign," he said. The manager's firm sells between three and four tonnes of shark fin a month.

But there are pockets of resistance, particularly among older people, who still regard eating shark fin as a means of expressing their Chinese identity.

"At weddings you have different people sitting around the same table," says Shea. "Young people understand the problem and want to do something about it, but at some point their parents stop them."

"The Chinese tradition of eating shark fin will be maintained, but will increasingly come from sustainable fisheries," says Lim, a prominent member of Hong Kong's marine products association. Chinese people and traditions do make an easy and readily identifiable target for largely western campaigners. But many western campaigners who are seriously interested in promoting the sustainable use of sharks should look more closely at their home fisheries and the 'boneless' fish products that their children may be eating from the supermarket."

Shark finning seems brutal, and lawless, so I understand the cries to regulate it. I also agree with the sentiment that Westerners/Americans should get their own practices right before criticizing another culture. Everyone's a hypocrite - maybe even Yao Ming. Reports from his wedding state that shark fin was served at his own wedding in 2007 - after he spoke out against shark finning.

It's impossible to expect an immediate change in cultural practices. Hopefully they'll figure out a sustainable way to show status before they wipe out any tasty, tasty shark species, because I doubt this deeply-rooted culture will disappear in time to save any species from extinction.

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