Saturday, February 27, 2010

Certified Shark Fin Soup?

Once again, I'm irritated.

A friend has just sent me the link to the following Video.

Let's start with the positives.
It's by two Shark advocates, Alex Hofford & Paul Hilton who are being described as "passionate", it highlights the global plight of Sharks and the barbaric practice of finning, and it features a nice clip on 6:58 of Scarface, all of which is great.

On the negative side, it starts with the usual incorrect statement and is painfully long and tedious. Anything beyond three minutes needs to be absolutely brilliant, or the viewer will loose interest - and I'm afraid that this just isn't.
Plus, as so often, I fear that like the Sea Shepherd clip, it achieves nothing tangible. It's laudable in its intention, certainly personally rewarding for its authors - but alas, it's irrelevant in terms of reducing the number of Sharks that are being killed for their fins.

Let me elaborate - once again.
Shark fisheries are supply limited, meaning that the demand for Shark fins greatly outweighs the supply, and this by orders of magnitude.
Does anybody dispute this?

And if not, why do all those people insist in squandering all that money, time and energy in trying to "re-educate" the consumers of Shark fin soup?
Who are we to tell those people what to eat anyway?

But more importantly, it just doesn't make sense!
If the demand for Shark fins is, say, three times the supply, then we would have to convince more than two thirds of all potential consumers in order to have any effect in reducing the number of Sharks being killed! If it's four times, more than three fourths! Get the gist?
How many people would that be?

Does anybody really believe that this can be achieved via those fashionable Beijing posters, the translation of Sharkwater into Mandarin, videos like this one, or one of those countless competing petitions?
Will they succeed in convincing hundreds of millions of people to change their behavior????

C'mon guys, get real!
I've said it before and will continue to say it: the solution to overfishing is to promote sustainable fisheries, not prohibition. That is where we need to direct our energy and our scarce conservation Dollars, not into ineffective activism!

Southern Fried Science have re-visited the issue of Supply Side Conservation in this post.
Can we maybe adapt some of those recommendations to Sharks?

Dolphin-free Tuna was certainly very bad for the Tuna and an ecological disaster on top of that - but it was great for Dolphins. Following the recommendations of Seafood Watch has become fashionable and works. In my lifetime, the fashionable and ubiquitous Lady Curzon was replaced by Mockturtle and Trepang soup. As we speak, the unsustainable Caviar is gradually being replaced by surrogates. I've seen people pay a premium for eggs from happy free-range chucks.
Consumers may not be willing to completely change their habits, but they can certainly be educated and convinced to choose better products if presented with alternatives - and I see no reason why this would not apply to the consumers of Shark Fin soup.

Maybe one could work with the Shark Fin Industry and create a brand of certified Shark fin soup? From Sharks that have not been finned? From species that are not being overfished?
Could one develop a surrogate?

Just a suggestion.
Certainly more tedious and less fashionable and thus less personally rewarding than making a lot of noise and dishing out money for a good cause - but I believe, better for the Sharks.
And that's what ultimately counts.

Or not?


Shark Safe Network Team said...

I have to disagree with you on this one. Didn't you say something about less ranting and more doing this year?! :) And speaking of getting irritated, what irritates me is all the criticism and meanness among people who supposedly are working towards a solution to the same problem. And all the fuss over the 100 million number and the all the criticism of people who supposedly quote "incorrect" numbers is also getting really annoying (that one will take up a lot more space, so I'll send you a separate letter!).

OK, that's my rant for the day. To move on to a more positive and (hopefully?!) productive note, you bring up an interesting argument about shark's fin being a supply limited commodity. And you offer a possible solution ... certified shark fin soup. Here are some points you might want to consider:

1. Supply and demand -- While I agree that ultimately shark fisheries will be supply limited -- ie the sharks are going to run out eventually -- you've assumed that the CURRENT supply is at least three times the CURRENT demand. I don't believe this is true. Because shark fisheries worldwide are so poorly regulated, lack of supply does not seem to be much of limiting factor at this time. If this were the case, then why can you buy shark fin soup at the Food Court in a Hong Kong shopping mall and why are "all you can eat shark fin" specials commonplace? If the supply is so limited, then why has shark fin soup gone so down market? One would hope that the sheer volume of it would make it lose some of its appeal. Unfortunately, though, that doesn't seem to be the case so far.

Why not attack the problem from both sides? Yes, absolutely address the supply side through laws and international treaties aimed at reducing unsustainable fisheries and unsustainable fishing practices. But address the demand side as well through programs like the Shark Savers/Wild Aid "Say No To Shark Fin Soup" campaign, and films like Paul and Alex's and Sharkwater that show consumers where that soup came from, how it's made and the extent of the damage being done for the sake of that bowl of soup. Yes, restricting the supply should increase the price and in turn reduce the demand (which you say is useless anyway since the demand so far outstrips the supply). But if you restrict the supply without addressing the demand, you only increase the incentive for illegal poaching.

And the demand directed initiatives do have an impact. The SNTSFS campaign communicates the reasons why shark fin soup is bad for your health, the oceans, for sharks, and, potentially, for our future sea food supply. And this message is reaching millions of shark fin soup consumers in China. The results of WildAid's pilot billboard program - 200 billboards in Beijing for 3 months - demonstrate its effectiveness. In a survey, 19% of Beijingers responding remembered having seen the boards and 82% of those people said they would stop or reduce their consumption of shark fin soup. The films have an impact as well. A friend who lives in Hong Kong told me that he stopped eating shark fin soup after seeing the film that Paul and Alex made. At the time I hadn't even seen the film and didn't realize until after I'd seen it, that this was the film he was talking about. And what you're probably not be aware of is that there's much more to their plan than just posting the video on the Internet. continued....

Shark Safe Network Team said...

2. Alternatives to shark fin soup -- I also don't agree with the inference that no one is working on offering alternatives. Mock shark fin soup is available already - some restaurants in Hong Kong and other places have had it for years. I just sent an email last week with about 10 different links to various versions of "mock shark fin" to someone who is working with a Chinese chef to try to determine what are the best recipes. Without addressing the social factors that drive the demand for real shark fin soup, though, people are not going to choose mock shark fin over the real thing. And there is a group of people in Hong Kong who are working on this very issue. They are researching the social and economic questions surrounding shark fin soup - including looking for viable alternatives on the consumption side and on the production side (ie what would the impact be on the people employed in the industry and what are alternatives?).

And you've suggested certified shark fin soup as another option. Yes, there are some shark species that are not threatened, and I completely agree with supporting sustainable fisheries. But for shark fins to be certified as sustainable, you would have to know the species, where it was caught and be able to certify that the animal was landed whole. A lot of effort and expense for something that consumers are not even demanding at this time. So you'd have to go to all the work and expense to educate consumers to demand "certified" shark fins, and then the industry would have to figure out how to label the fins by species, origin, etc. And meanwhile if this initiative is to have any impact, there has to be a way to enforce it. What worldwide regulatory body would be responsible for preventing and penalizing the fraudulent "certified" shark fin sellers? Or would each country have to figure that out on its own? Sounds like a great marketing idea if you wanted to figure out how to differentiate your fins from everyone else's and charge more money for them. The fraud would probably be rampant and incredibly hard to enforce, however. Then people who were willing and able to pay more for shark fins would be able to eat shark fin soup and feel good about themselves. But what about everyone else? I don't think they're going to stop eating unsustainable shark fin soup, because they can't afford the "certified" version.

And about the turtle soup example, it seems inconsistent that the alternative you cited to real turtle soup was mock turtle soup. Would killing turtles for soup "sustainably" have been a better alternative? And also, how did it happen that "the fashionable and ubiquitous Lady Curzon was replaced by Mockturtle and Trepang soup."?? Is that not relevant to what we're trying to do here??
continued again...!

Shark Safe Network Team said...

3. "Fashionable", "personally rewarding", "squandering" time and money on "ineffective activism": I believe that the vast majority of shark advocates really care and want to do something that will make a difference. Most people do not want to waste their time and money (or other people's money) doing something that's useless. There will always be the few who are mainly concerned about stroking their egos or the unscrupulous NGO's who just care about getting attention to attract more funding. But to make these types of statements when referring to the demand directed campaigns referenced in your blog was way out of line in my opinion.

4. Hong Kong is the epicenter of the shark fin trade: Does anyone have all the answers? I don't think so. But rather than criticizing and complaining, maybe we can try to work together and help each other. We can try to figure out what works and what doesn't, what are the best alternatives to offer, and so on. And we can work together on the initiatives and programs that are making a difference to make them more successful and efficient. This is what Hong Kong shark advocates are trying to do. And why a number of them got together on Friday night - thanks to Ran Elfassy of Shark Rescue, who organized the meeting. These people are living in the shark fin capital of the world. They are surrounded by the trade and see the consumption every day. They're a small group of very intelligent, creative and hard working people who truly care and want to make a difference. And they could use some support, not criticism.

If you have some better ideas on what's best for the sharks, then maybe you could contact them and offer to your help?

Less ranting and more doing, right?!! :)

Take care!

DaShark said...

Mary, thank you so much for your comments!

Please refer to the following blog post.

carrie said...

You know, I'm not super educated on the debate over creating fisheries, though I support the concept wholeheartedly. And while I may not have all the facts and stats to support my opinion on this matter, it all comes down to one, simple point for me....the way they take the fins. I'm not about to tell anyone what they can or cannot eat. But I will, in a heartbeat, stand up for any creature being tortured. And that is exactly what the shark finning method of collecting fins does to these beautiful creatures. I really don't care how much information that can be parroted in a defense, in the end it's a case of humans without heart taking what they need from an animal, and then tossing it back into the sea like garbage to drown. That we, as a species, allow this to continue whether or not we would like to taste the delicacy, speaks volumes about our ability for permitting cruelty and turning a blind eye. Anyone that supports shark finning needs to take a good, hard look at themselves and understand that it is, in fact, animal abuse, just like lighting a kitten on fire or beating a puppy to a bloody pulp.

DaShark said...

Carrie - totally agree, finning is an ethical abomination, cruel and wasteful, and it needs to be abolished.

But it's only one particular repugnant way of getting the fins and part of a larger problem, i.e. the unsustainable fishing for Sharks.

Globally, we got to advocate Shark fishing bans and sustainability - which incidentally mandates that wasteful and cruel practices like finning be prohibited.