As China celebrated the start of its new year the number of restaurants serving the ecologically destructive dish and demand from the public seems to have decreased.
Shark fin soup is a luxury dish served at special occasions in Chinese culture such as weddings and banquets. It is a traditional symbol of power and status in the community and is often consumed during Chinese New Year celebrations. But this year ecological concerns over the impact of the dish meant less restaurants were serving it, and people didn’t seem to mind that much.
Around 70 million sharks are killed every year to supply the demand for the dish, primarily in China but also in other parts of Asia. Because of this several species have been hunted to near extinction including thresher and silky sharks that have taken a particularly big hit. Sharks are top predators that play a key role in the health of a marine ecosystem. Their declines are having serious knock-on effects that are being felt across the globe.
The fishing of sharks is often illegal and occurs in developing countries across the world before being exported to China through Hong Kong. It normally involves removing the fins and returning the injured sharks back to the sea where they will later die due to lack of mobility. The barbaric and wasteful practise is widely condemned by conservation groups and international governments alike.
Not only is it morally questionable to consume the dish but it may also result in health problems. As the top of the food chain sharks tend to accumulate toxins such as mercury, lead and arsenic which have been found in dangerous levels in some shark meat.
But for the first time this year there has been a notable decrease in the consumption of the dish during this key festive period. Singapore restaurant chains such as Foodpanda and Crystal Jade have stopped serving the dish altogether, whilst others have shown reduced sales. Instead replacement dishes such as double boiled mushroom soup have been served and seem equally as popular.
The change in opinion has been brought about by greater awareness of what happens to the sharks that are killed for the fins. In particular the younger generations are declining the dish and protesting against its ecological impact. More popular Chinese icons such as ex-NBA player Yao Ming are also campaigning against the dish with significant results. But among older generations it is still seen as culturally important and there has been less of a difference.
The changes in consumption of shark fin soup are a good step in the right direction. However the dish is still very popular and unlikely to disappear from people’s dinner tables anytime soon. Other luxury seafood items such as abalone and sea cucumber are also still sold heavily in China and are very profitable. More work needs to be done tackle the issue.
Hopefully by cutting out the demand in the future it will become a less profitable trade and result in a decrease in the deaths of these majestic creatures.