Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shark-fin soup and my bluntnose friends.

I’ve been posting about my Chinese eating fetishes lately - from chicken brains to no-packaging rice and beans.

The Chinese worship food. Every aspect of the culture revolves around food. If you are doing a business deal in China, you don’t sit around a boardroom and exchange ideas and reservations; you go to the restaurant, rent a private room, order a thirty course meal, and you talk business after everyone have had ample amount of baiju and exotic dishes.

Growing up, I’ve always heard the holy trinity of Chinese cuisine: bear’s claws, bird’s nest, and shark-fin soup. Leaving the first two to your imagination and research, I want to discuss the third – shark-fin soup.

I’ve never tried shark-fin soup. Everything I know about shark-fin soup came from my mother’s story telling. It’s suppose to be really good for your health, but then again the Chinese believed everything rare is good for your health - tiger’s bones, bat’s wings, and yes, even chicken brains.

Even though I place a large amount of faith in traditional Chinese medicine and I still follow certain folklores about what I’m suppose to eat in certain seasons – Mung bean soup for the summer to lower my “heat,” for example; but I doubt the legitimacy of tales of the shark’s fin. I also lived in the great northwest for a few years, dived the Puget Sound and chased the infamous sixgill sharks. Those experiences left me even further from my Chinese roots of wanting to taste the delicacy of shark’s fin.

It was on a night dive that I had the chance to meet my ugly bluntnose friend. It glided smoothly beneath me in the eerie luminescent shadows from my underwater flashlight. In a quick second, before I could comprehend what had just happened, it simply vanished leaving me in a fretfulness of disbelief.

Ever since then, I follow Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and I dream of the day when I can return to the cold blue water again.

“Sharks are one of our oceans' top predators, keeping the entire ecosystem balanced and in check. They are an essential component of the food web – simply put they are vital to the health of our oceans. Studies show that a reduction in one species affects others, and sometimes these effects are not only unexpected, but long-lasting and detrimental to local and regional economies.”

Francesca Koe, This Shark Week - Save a Shark, NRDC Switchboard. 

Shark fins can fetch $600 per pound, making the catch lucrative for some. Because of this demand, 26 – 73 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins. I’ve seen reporting that fishermen often will only cut the fins and toss the dead shark overboard. This is because fins are less of a load for the ship, and tossing the shark meant more room for storing fins.

“Anyone who has seen videos or photos of shark finning knows that it is an absolutely cruel and horrific practice. Not only is it barbaric, but it is terribly unsustainable.”

Fortunately, many states and nations are taking protective measures.

“Chile, one of the biggest fin exporters, just banned shark finning in their waters, joining the Bahamas, Honduras, the Maldives and Palau. In the U.S., Hawaii passed a first-of-its-kind law banning the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins in the state (similar to what’s pending in California) last year, and similar measures have passed in Washington State, Oregon, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.”

NRDC is also working in California to pass pending legislation in the same capacity. You can read this letter from from Leonardo Di Caprio, Yao Ming, Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, Anthony Keidis, about their thoughts.

I feel it’s more important to address the demand problem. A world-wide campaign must be underway to educate consumers about sharks. While I treasure many of my Chinese traditions and customs, I believe some old tales will have to yield to the sustainable future of our generations.

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