Shark Fins: A Second Look About the Tradition

Shark fin

Credit: Nicholas Wang

Do you know what makes news like this Illegal Shark Fins Discovered at Exclusive London Chinese Restaurant newsworthy? This post by Oscar Quine for The Independent attracted attention for several reasons. For one, the Royal China Club in London’s West End is an upmarket restaurant where a meal costs about £70 per person to an astonishing £2,800 a head for a set menu including shark soup. It is a distinguished by restaurant serving the best Chinese dishes in the capital, and they admitted serving their guests shark fin. This they bring in through suitcases through the airports because they knew these can be confiscated when brought in using the usual importation mode.

“Royal China Club has not removed the soup from its menu but now must import it through legal channels. Shark fin – and all the other ingredients offered by the Royal China Club – is legal if imported properly, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. However, there is growing pressure for restaurants in the UK to remove the ingredient from their menus. In recent years, a third of restaurants who previously offered shark fins have removed it from menus.”

Why is shark fin a coveted ingredient in the Chinese cuisine?

The Shark Truth post History of Shark Fin Soup enlightens its readers about the history of the Shark Fin Soup.

“The story goes that shark fin soup was created by an emperor in the Sung Dynasty (AD 968) who wanted to show how powerful, wealthy and generous he was to his banquet guests. Serving the expensive dish came to be seen as a sign of respect.”

It became a popular delicacy along with three others to complete “The Big 4,” which represents prosperity and health at a traditional dinner banquet in Chinese culture. These are: abalone (bào), sea cucumber (shēn), shark fin (chì), and fish maw (dǔ).

Specifically, it is a symbol of status and face. This means that it is something that has to be eaten or served to publicly show their social status, particularly weddings. It is also a symbol of generosity. Serving it during dinners is a manifestation of the family’s desire to “share their fortune” with others.

The Confusion About the “Fish Wing Soup”

“Using expensive products to display your social status is a pervasive tradition in many cultures and shark fin is no exception to this cultural norm.” in Chinese, the soup is called “Yu Chi”,” which literally translates to “fish wing.” Many mistakenly take this to mean as such, a fin from just any fish. It is only recently that many people realize that the fish is actually “shark” and that it is fast becoming endangered.

It is actually hard to make out that the shark fin is from shark because it is served like “threads” along with shredded chicken and broth. A bowl can cost between $5 a bowl and $2,000 per serving, depending on the kind of the source.  According to Shark Truth, “… no matter how it is served, none of the soup’s flavour actually comes from shark fin. It is essentially symbolic.”

Corey Lee of The French Laundry said that the soup has actually no “nutrition or taste value.
The traditional making of the soup, which has been perfected over millennia, is more about the culinary art involved in the process. Lee further said that” … shark fin is eaten for its texture, a texture that … can be replaced by other non-endangered seafood or fake shark fin.” With the clamor coming from conservationists, there is now a shift in consumer behavior, favoring the use of alternatives for banquets.

The Truth About Shark Fin Soup

Those who benefit from the shark fin trading believe in some “myths” or arguments that tend to justify shark finning. Know about them in this post Shark Fin Soup Facts by Stop Shark Finning.

  1. Sharks are harmful to humans. We are better off without them.
  2. We live on the land. Who cares what happens in the oceans?
  3. If you ban the trade in shark fins, it will just lead to a black market trade.
  4. Only rich people can afford shark fin soup so it’s not such a big problem.
  5. It’s hypocritical to ban shark fin soup and not other types of meat like chickens and cows.
  6. Shark fin soup is a part of Chinese culture and shouldn’t be interfered with.
  7. Banning shark fins is bad for business.
  8. Why don’t you ban fishing for the whole shark?
  9. Why are you picking on the Chinese culture when shark cartilage is also used in health food capsules?
  10. Shark fin soup is good for you.

The blog also clarified that it has fewer health benefits. In fact, the fins are treated with hydrogen peroxide to bleach it and make it more appealing. The sharks may also contain elevated amounts of mercury, so that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) warns the public, particularly the women and young children, to avoid it. In other words, the tradition isn’t working for the Chinese and for other shark fin consumers anymore. Isn’t it time to forego this tradition?

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