Shark fin soup: The taste of extinction

Updated: 2011-08-09 15:17


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If passed, the California state bill that prohibits the sale of shark fin and helps protect the threatened fish would affect Chinese Americans disproportionately, according to the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jonathan Gold in an op-ed piece on the website of The Los Angles Times on August 7, 2011.

It is considered a sign of respect to serve shark's fin to guests, and at a certain kind of Cantonese restaurant a grand dinner is inconceivable without it or one of its sisters in luxury, noted Gold.

But there is no happiness in the future of sharks, said Gold, as China's middle class continues to grow and the number of aficionados who can afford the delicacy is expanding. To meet the rising demand, efficient new fishing boats have found ways to catch more sharks and some fishermen even resort to "finning," a barbaric and wasteful practice in which the fins are hacked off live sharks, after which the bleeding, crippled animals are tossed back into the sea to drown.

Shark populations have been reduced to 10 percent of historical levels, and nearly a third of shark species are approaching the point of extinction, Gold mentioned.

We need sharks, said Gold. "As top-dog predators, they keep the ocean's ecosystems in balance. And we need to stop eating shark's fin, at least until shark populations have had a chance to recuperate."

Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state have all enacted laws banning the sale, trade and distribution of shark's fin. However, Gold said, in California, which controls an estimated 85 percent of the US trade in the fins, a bill prohibiting the sale, consumption or trade of shark's fin faces obstacles. "In the state Senate, where Senator Ted Lieu, a member of the Appropriations Committee, which will consider the bill August 15, has said that the ban would unintentionally discriminate against Chinese Americans."

The ban would affect mostly Chinese Americans, concluded Gold, who make up almost all of the market for fins.