May 9, 2011

An Asian-American Perspective on Shark Finning


By Sue Chen – Chairperson, Board of Directors, Reef Check Foundation

I was born in Taiwan but grew up in Florida. As a Chinese-American I remember attending many banquets where shark fin soup was served.  I never liked the taste or the texture and as a young girl, I would occasionally wonder..…what happened to the rest of the shark? I was also surprised to learn that since shark fins are cartilage, they don’t really have much flavor – so the chef has to add chicken powder or other ingredients to flavor the soup. 

I learned to scuba dive as an adult, and I was lucky enough to see a shark on my very first dive.  I was transformed by the beauty, grace and fragility of these amazing animals. I then learned that encounters like this were increasingly rare and sharks were quickly being exterminated throughout the world — all because of shark fin soup. It is estimated that 75 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. When I learned that many shark fins are cut off while the sharks are alive and the animals tossed back into the ocean to die, I felt horrified and ashamed. I vowed to never have shark fin soup again, and to make it my personal mission to do all I could to stop this senseless massacre of our sharks.   At this rate, how long can shark species survive?

Traditional Asian culture emphasizes honor — doing what is right, and keeping our lives and planet in balance. We also want to make the world a better place for our children. I know that it is not the intention of my fellow Asians to wipe out the sharks of the world, and threaten the health of our oceans. They just need to get more infromation about the problem of shark overfishing and how this affects the marine ecosystem and our beloved seafood to make sustainable decisions.  

Conserving sharks and keeping their populations healthy fits well with Asian culture and cuisine.   Asian cuisine is rich in seafood…so many species of fish, scallops, kelp, crab – and much more.  I am not personally against eating seafood and at Reef Check we support sustainable fisheries management. Although Reef Check is best known for our volunteer citizen-science monitoring programs – we also continue to work on the issue of sustainable reef fisheries in the US, Mexico and in several other countries. Unfortunately, shark finning has decimated shark populations worldwide and is not sustainable. 

 A serious issue with shark fishing is that sharks grow slowly, do not begin to reproduce for several years, and most bear only a handful of young sharks. These special features of shark biology make it particularly easy to overfish shark populations. As apex predators, sharks are vital to maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem including other fish populations. If we continue to decimate shark populations, much of the seafood that we love – our Asian cuisine and culture – could be lost.

Recently, several countries and Hawaii have signed laws to prohibit or limit shark finning. There is currently a bill (AB 376) in California to prohibit the possession and trade of shark fin. Please learn the facts about shark finning, and help conserve our remaining sharks.