Monday, October 25, 2010

Shark Fin Soup – nothing but a Myth?

From the website of Wild Aid.
Demand for shark fin soup, an expensive delicacy in Chinese culture, has skyrocketed in the last twenty years due to growing Chinese economy.

Not so fast! says this article in the Guy Harvey Magazine.
Apparently, Shark Fin soup hasn’t got anything to do with centennial Chinese culture, nor is it some status symbol originally reserved for the Ming emperors, nor is it particularly expensive nor is the increasing consumption in any way linked to the advent of a wealthy middle class in China.
Instead, the article says, the load of bull surrounding the international regulation, historical legacy, and modern demand for shark fin soup got too big and smelly for me to ignore. It turns out that what you believe about shark fin soup is largely a matter of what lie you’re willing to swallow.

So, why do they eat the tasteless slimy stuff?
Because they can: because it’s there, because it’s actually cheap and because they couldn’t care less about its provenience:

…as Fuchsia Dunlop noted in Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, “The Chinese don’t generally divide the animal world into the separate realms of pets and edible creatures.” “When I was living in China, animal cruelty was just not an issue,” Dunlop told me. “There was no kind of emotional identification with animals at all.
“For most Chinese, there’s no difference between eating a wild animal or a domesticated one. A shark might as well be a cow, or a hamster. As travel writer Maarten Troost notes: “The Chinese have an expression: ‘We eat everything with four legs except the table, and everything with two legs except the person.’ They mean it, too.”
So, the Chinese are hungry, numerous, unsentimental, subject to the same insidious, aspirational marketing forces as everyone else.

And all those campaigns targeting the Asian consumers?
Frankly, dunno – meaning that I remain unconvinced: the article itself contains statements by the Mary and conflicting statements by a representative of the Pew. And when I interview our numerous Asian customers, most of which are of Chinese origin, the picture remains equally ambiguous and equally bleak: from what I’m being told, whereas consumption may be dropping among the younger urban generation in places like Hong Kong, Singapore and KL, it remains high elsewhere, especially in mainland China – and that would mean that tens, if not hundreds of millions would still need to be reformed before a single Shark would be spared!
And yes, I’m rather stubbornly repeating myself, check out the above link!

Plus, there’s this.
Assuming that the usual volunteer bleeding hearts are going to step up and stop the shark carnage simply isn’t realistic.
There are lots of volunteer bleeding hearts doing that already and their efforts have difficulty competing against commercial concerns that can spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying in order to protect hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.
Probably true!

  • If the trade is supply limited, one must target the supply side: you protect African Elephants and Rhinos in Africa, not by trying to curb the demand for ivory and Rhino horn in Asia – by the same token, you gotta protect Sharks (and e.g. Tuna) where they are being harvested! Conversely, as there really is no real demand for Whale meat in Japan and whaling is thus demand limited: you protect Whales by eliminating the remaining tiny demand in Japan, not by targeting the whalers in Antarctica: let go of the ideology so they can let go of their nationalistic phobia, give them a quota - and then let them try to justify whaling from a purely commercial POW!
  • We got to focus on sustainability, not on prohibition, meaning that we must be willing to compromise! Who are we anyway to tell anybody what to eat as long as that is being done sustainably! Granted, for most species of large Sharks, sustainable harvesting appears unrealistic – but at least in theory, some of the smaller species are adequately plentiful and fecund to warrant a quota.
  • Finning is wasteful and cruel and needs to be stopped.
  • Any strategy will only be successful if on top of legislation, it includes enforcement, mitigation and education. The latter require adequate resources that are generally lacking in third word countries, meaning that we must contribute with more than mere rhetoric. I have no doubt that every single fisheries official is acutely aware of the problems and of the need to fish sustainably, and that given the adequate support (including the eradication of corruption where necessary), he will be eager to implement forward looking policies. So, let’s not only lecture and petition, let’s be part of the solution and the implementation as well!
  • In order to be credible, we gotta be rational, goal oriented and smart – and fact based, see above!
It always boils down to the same rules, doesn’t it.
Let’s go do it!

PS bravo Patric for having written this. As to whether the Asian mafia controls the Shark fin trade: as the trade has greatly expanded and gone mainstream, they probably do not control it anymore - but they sure use it for money laundering!

No comments: