Souring on Shark Fin Soup

Shark fin soup, once considered by Chinese as a symbol of status and wealth and a must-serve at wedding banquets, is now receiving a cold welcome among the younger generation. From Bonnie Tsui at The New York Times:

In 2006, recognizing the environmental threat, WildAid, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, began a TV and social media campaign, with public service announcements by Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Ang Lee. The goal: to make eating shark fin socially unacceptable.

[...] THE application of these principles by WildAid and other environmental groups seems to have created a ripple, if not a wave, in Chinese consumption. Guo Jingjing, a four-time Olympic diving champion and WildAid ambassador, declined to serve shark fin soup at her recent wedding. Her rationale? These days, killing sharks means losing face, not saving it. Jennifer Yang, a wedding planner for Beijing’s China World Hotel, says that some parents of brides-to-be still try to request shark fin, but the younger generation is balking. One bride, Amy Liu, even told Ms. Yang that the practice of slicing fins and dumping the animals back in the ocean made her lose her appetite.

[...] The potential to change the consumption patterns of the Chinese middle class has powerful implications for every conceivable commodity, from beef and cars to electricity and water. The government’s apparent embrace of the campaign against shark fin consumption is also crucial. Any long-term solution to overfishing — or climate change or air pollution — will require progressive policies as well as progressive consumers. [Source]

In Hong Kong, selling shark fin soup is now met with pressure from social groups. Voice of America notices changes in Hong Kong’s market:

Inside the small shops merchants talk freely about how little shark fin they sell these days. But in front of a camera nobody wants to mention shark fins; it is just too sensitive, they say.

[...] But times are slowly changing, said Veronica Mak, an anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who researches eating habits.

“Not consuming shark fins becomes a kind of signifier to show you are a socially responsible person. In the past, when you wanted to show your social status, people made shark fins a signifier in a banquet, but nowadays this signifier changes,” she said. [Source]

And as Cathay Pacific carried out a ban on cargo containing “unsustainable” shark fin ten months ago, activists have been pressuring the Hong-Kong based airline company to do more. From Simon Parry at South China Morning Post:

The airline – widely praised by environmentalist groups last September for taking what was then seen as a pioneering step – planned to bring in the ban at the start of 2013. Yesterday a spokesman for Cathay said the airline would consider an outright ban if they prove unable to define what is sustainable shark fin.

[...] The airline carried less than three tonnes of shark fin from October 2012 to March 2013 compared to around 300 tonnes a year previously.

Green groups insist there is no such thing as sustainable shark fin and the world’s biggest sustainability verification body, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), has yet to certify any fishery engaged in shark finning. [Source]

At the same time, California has issued a ban on sale or possession of shark fin effective as of this Monday. From Louis Sahagun at Los Angeles Times:

“This is an important milestone in the global campaign to end shark finning,” said Aimee David, director of conservation policy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “California’s example has inspired several states to act, and we hope many others will follow suit.”

So far, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland and Delaware, and the Pacific territories Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, have also enacted legislation prohibiting the sale of shark fins. New York is pursuing similar legislation.

[...] At the nearby Ocean Seafood, where shark fin soup costs $42 a bowl — $138 when combined in a pot with a whole chicken — manager Dennis Fong said the restaurant was changing its menus this week to remove the item. [Source]