bowl of shark fin soup
It might not look like much, but shark fin soup is an expensive and controversial delicacy. Photo Credit: moohaha/Flickr.com/CC-BY

During the past year, various governments have been banning shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy, because opponents say the dish promotes cruelty. The dish encourages a highly controversial method of procuring the main ingredient, and this has lead to the bans.

‘Finning’ gets dish banned

The state of California recently banned shark fin soup, according to the New York Times. Washington, Oregon and Hawaii have also banned the dish and so have several territories of Canada. Entire countries are putting the dish in the penalty box, including the Bahamas, Honduras and, according to The Independent, the Maldives and Palau. Several of these countries have declared themselves “shark sanctuaries.” Shark fin soup, a light seafood stew with strips of shark fin added for texture, has become controversial over the past few decades for various reasons, but foremost is the practice of “finning.” Fishermen capture the sharks in nets and cut off the sharks’ dorsal fins, or the fin in the middle of a shark’s back. The sharks are released, but because fins don’t regrow and are necessary for navigation, they die.

World shark population declining

According to USA Today, the United Nations were estimating in 2006 that up to 100 million sharks are harvested annually for various body parts, including fins. According to the Independent, 73 million of them are estimated to be “finned” for the purpose of soups.The population of hammerhead sharks in the western Atlantic has decreased by an estimated 89 percent in the past 25 years. The scalloped hammerhead and great hammerhead, according to Wikipedia, are both targeted for their fins. Selling shark fins is lucrative; they go for more than $300 per pound. The fins, according to TodayOnline, are widely acknowledged to be virtually “tasteless” and are only added for texture. Shark fin soup, according to the Christian Science Monitor, can sell for more than $100 per bowl, making it more a decadent treat rather than a daily staple. According to Wikipedia, it is mostly served at banquets or special occasions.

Derided decadent treats

Often, rare foods garner the most attention for animal cruelty. Foie gras, pate made from the livers of ducks and geese that have been force fed and fattened, is commonly singled out. Foie gras, according to Bloomberg, has been banned in California, and other areas are considering banning it as well. In 2007, according to The Telegraph, France announced it would start enforcing the ban on eating ortolan, a small sparrow-like bird that is captured live, fattened and then drowned in brandy before roasting. An ortolan can sell for as much as 150 euros (more than $200) for a bird the size of a Hostess Twinkie. According to NPR, it was the last meal of former French prime minster Francois Mitterand.

Sources

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/science/earth/11shark.html

Today Online: http://www.todayonline.com/Voices/EDC110912-0000868/Do-a-taste-check-of-sharks-fin

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/sharks-saved-from-soupy-fate-set-free-at-sea-2353043.html

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/basketball/nba/rockets/2006-08-02-yao-wildlife_x.htm

Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-07/foie-gras-lovers-in-california-fall-victim-to-rights-of-ducks.html

Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/CSM-Photo-Galleries/Lists/Controversial-foods/%28photo%29/259050

Wikipedia on hammerhead sharks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammerhead_shark

Wikipedia on Shark fin soup: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_fin_soup

NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5223077

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1562561/Frances-songbird-delicacy-is-outlawed.html

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