The Shark Voice on Finning: Project: FIN Takes Shark Conservation “Fin On” In The Heart Of Asia

AsianScientist sees increased worldwide attention towards shark conservation: California, one of the largest consumer of fins outside of Asia, is pushing for a complete ban of shark’s fins. Fiji announced intentions to amend its fishery management law to ban the trade of all shark products, Bahamas banned shark fishing, and Oakville in Canada now bans the sale, possession, distribution, and consumption of shark’s fins and their derivatives.

Chile placed a ban on shark finning: the inhumane practice of throwing the lower-value shark carcasses back into the water once their fins are obtained, in order to save space on-board for more valuable fins. And Taiwan followed shortly, announcing plans for a similar regulation that would fall in place early next year.

Sounds like a series of fantastic news, isn’t it? Yes and No.

Yes, when a complete ban is passed, but not quite if the ban covers only shark finning.
Loopholes exist in regulatory changes

With the ban encompassing only the practice of shark finning, Chile and Taiwan remain free to fish sharks at unsustainable levels, as long as they bring the sharks’ bodies back to port with their fins attached. This may make things a little more inconvenient for fishers, but if demand continues to exist, will this actually curb fishing?

When a quota is not set to limit the number of catches at sustainable levels, we are not allowing time for populations to recover. Mother Nature has it that sharks reproduce way slower than other fishes.

Unlike most fishes, sharks mature late, have long gestation periods, and produce few young. At the rate we have been fishing sharks, we will drive them to extinction before we know it.

Even if the practice of shark finning is banned in Taiwan and Chile, this ban is localized and it does not prevent Taiwanese or Chilean fishers from docking at ports of other countries to unload the fins they harvested.

Shark species that are currently threatened with extinction also do not receive any form of protection through this regulation, except for three species: Basking shark, Great White Shark, and Whale Shark, which are protected under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Threatened shark species, such as the Great Hammerhead, Scalloped Hammerhead, Dusky Shark, and Oceanic Whitetip are not receiving the trade restrictions they need, the same way that the critically endangered Blue Fin Tuna receives zero protection under CITES.

With so many loopholes, the effectiveness of a regulation banning merely the practice of finning remains in question. Ultimately, as long as demand exists, supply would be made to satisfy demand. The most powerful role, inevitably, falls back on the laps of consumers.

Project: FIN at Singapore’s Raffles Junior College,
reaching out to students during an educational road show.


Chinese tradition?

Many people know that the shark’s fin soup is an ancient dish with a history that goes back thousands of years. The truth is, the dish originated from the Ming Dynasty and was accessible only to the emperor and selected members of his court. Unlike feet-binding and arranged marriages, the soup had never been a Chinese tradition.

For the Chinese, the sound of the names of food items hold symbolic meaning to what we seek to “give”, be it wealth, health, or other well-wishes.

For example, glutinous rice balls, (汤圆, pronounced: tang1 yuan2 in Mandarin) symbolize reunion (圆满, pronounced: yuan2 man3 in Mandarin) because of the word “yuan”. On the flip side, ironically, shark’s fins which are served at weddings are called 魚翅, “yu2 chi4″. With the same intonation, “chi” is pronounced similar to “spike” or “thorn” (刺, ci4).

According to a Shin Min Daily report, a geomancer (feng shui master) based in Singapore, said:

“Other than the negative effects of killing, the term “yu2 chi4″ (魚翅, shark’s fins) doesn’t sound auspicious at all. It sounds like we are eating “ci4″ (刺, thorns or spikes), and the “ci4″ would hurt your stomach. It is not an ideal dish to be served to a wedding couple and invited guests.”

Our continual slaughter of 73 million sharks every year has caused shark populations to plummet by 80 percent in the last 30 to 50 years. The population decline runs in sync with an increased demand for fin soup as a show of wealth and generosity; most of these sharks are taken to feed an uncontrolled demand coming from fin consumers, most of whom are unaware of the consequences.

The dish is an outdated fad that is quickly becoming a show of nonchalance or ignorance. The challenge now is, how fast can we educate consumers, and how long more will it take us to realize that we should not blindly allow cultural-following to dominate and supersede the importance of conservation for our future generations?

Taste Check: Alternatives aplenty

During the short span of two years of speaking up for the sharks, countless people have told me that they like the taste of the soup and that they are not able to find a replacement dish.

When a variety of ingredients are used in a single dish, we lose check of our ability to distinguish individual ingredients because we taste the soup as a whole. We know how fish meat tastes, we know how chicken meat tastes. But how does shark’s fins taste – shark’s fin on its own – I asked?

To date, no one is able to describe its taste to me, simply because the fins are completely tasteless.

The soup is tasty because of all other ingredients that make the soup – seafood, vinegar, chicken stock, and so on. One of Project: FIN’s members shared that she served mock shark’s fins at her wedding some years back and none of her guests even noticed the difference; not until she informed them that those were mock fins.

In fact, not known to many, mock shark’s fins are readily available in the market, and they make perfect replacements for the real fins, at a fraction of the cost. How soon can we all realize that many of us have our taste buds tricked, and that we do not need shark’s fins to make the same soup?

A number of recommendations can been made to replace shark’s fin soup based on the WWF Seafood Guide 2010. Sustainable alternatives such as Rock Lobster (Australia) or Mud Crabs (from India and Sri Lanka) can be used to make the same soup. Abalones from Australia can also be served. Other alternatives include mock shark’s fins or a melon called the “shark’s fin melon” soup. Furthermore, if the host is looking for an expensive alternative, ginseng soup can be considered.

The possibilities are endless and a good restaurant would have chefs who are creative enough to whip up options for its customers.

Generosity, better flaunted

Increasingly, more and more companies around the world are moving competitively towards corporate social responsibility through environmental consciousness.

In the second half of 2010, Citibank landed in a global public relations crisis when customers complained about two shark’s fin promotions run by their branch offices in Hong Kong and Singapore. Card members from around the world called to cancel their cards and thousands of complaints were filed. The intense outcry led to the premature termination of both promotions, and an official notice issued by Citibank’s headquarters that Citibank will cease all shark’s fin promotions on a global level.

With growing controversy surrounding the dish, many market leaders have inked conservation deals for themselves.

The five-star hotel, Fairmont Singapore, has strict guidelines in not serving shark’s fins as they ensure that only sustainable seafood is served at the restaurants in their hotel. Standard Chartered Singapore has strict policies to ensure that all staff do not order shark’s fin soup for company functions, down to even team gatherings and lunches. Singapore Airlines has also removed shark’s fin soup from their menu since 2001.

As time progresses, the gains made by flaunting generosity by serving the soup will not justify the potential damage a company risks to its image of social responsibility. The additional budget for fin soup could be better parked elsewhere.

Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.

Project: FIN is a Singapore-based marine conservation group that was established in January 2010. Founded by a Singaporean Chinese, the group boosts a core team of 8, and a volunteer base of 70, made up of mainly Singaporean Chinese. Visit their Facebook page:

The group works closely with numerous NGOs around the globe, and is focused on education outreach campaigns such as providing talks in schools, participation in roadshows, and animal / conservation centric events.

Project: FIN is 100 percent volunteer-run and does not solicit nor operate on funds or donations.

About the founder: Jennifer Lee is a Singaporean Chinese raised by Singaporean Chinese parents. Her profession is in marketing. Besides shark conservation, Jennifer also advocates against factory farming and encourages a diet comprising of less or no meat. She believes that education of conservation topics is important but lacking. She believes that equipping people with the right knowledge empowers them to make conscious decisions.

Source: Asian Scientist






~ by FSVSF Admin on 27 January, 2012.

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