Photo by istolethetv via Flickr Creative Commons
As China's economy strengthens and the elite sharkfin soup is easier to afford, the country now represents about 95% of the sharkfin trade. That means the bulk of fins from millions of sharks worldwide are going straight to East Asia, all to become a tasteless, nutritionless, mercury-laden ingredient in a soup that can cost hundreds of dollars per bowl. Sharks are disappearing and dozens of species are nearing extinction all because of a status food. There's only so much countries around the world can do to ban shark finning -- the demand has to slow for the supply to stop. Thankfully, legislators in China itself are finally becoming more vocal about instituting bans. Ding Liguo, deputy to the National People's Congress, the top legislature, has submitted a proposal to end the trade of fins. China.org reports that Ding Liguo, a billionaire and executive chairman of Delong Holdings Limited, "filed a formal written proposal to the legislature, together with a dozen of other lawmakers." He stated that publicity campaigns have done little to halt the consumption of sharkfin soup and only legislation can make a difference.
Indeed, we've seen more and more posters of Yao Ming go up, alongside a rising number of sharks killed each year. Clearly celebrity status goes only so far. Laws and the enforcement of laws have to be part of the equation.
Activist Randall Arauz in Costa Rica argues for a requirement that if shark fins are to be collected, the fisherman has to land the entire shark. This way, there is less room in the boat per fishing expedition and be more expensive for the fishermen. Plus, the meat from the shark does not go to waste. Most of the time, fishermen fin the sharks, and kick the still-living animals overboard to die a slow death, just so they can fit more fins on the boat. Arauz's solution would save more sharks in the long run, even if it doesn't stop finning altogether.
As China.org notes, "Shark fin soup represents wealth, prestige and honor as the gourment food was coveted by emperors in China's Ming Dynasty because it was rare, delicious and required elaborate preparation."
There's even shark fin icecream. Photo by istolethetv via Flickr Creative Commons
It's not so rare anymore, and the fins which were thought to be healthful are now proven to have very little nutritional value and are actually chock full of mercury and lead since sharks are apex predators and accumulate the heavy metals in their bodies as it works its way up through the food chain.
"Price of shark fins is up to 4,000 yuan (about 600 U.S. dollars) per kilogram, said Huang Liming, duty manager at the medium-level Hongxing Seafood Restaurant in southern Guangzhou city. Shark fins could be sold up to 10,000 yuan per kilogram in upscale restaurants, Huang said."
Ding proposes starting the ban in just such places, with state-owned hotels and restaurants taking sharkfin soup off the menu.
As of Wednesday, 27,370 people have voted for the ban, and 440 voted against the ban. We will stay updated on the result, though the outcome seems pretty clear already.
Odds are good that a ban of the soup in the very place it is most popular would have the most effective result. More importantly, more restrictions and bans would follow, giving hope of survival to shark species around the world.
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