Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Douglas about Manta Rays!

Epic pic by Douglas David Seifert

From Doug's article.

The Chinese dried seafood market drives the fishing industries of ‘Third World’ countries.
Those fisheries cannot compete with the ‘First World’ fishing fleets for top-price Eastern (Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan) and Western (European, American and Australian) markets which demand fresh and flash-frozen seafood products – and compensate accordingly. Instead, they struggle to make a living with marginally seaworthy boats, manned by illiterate and unskilled labourers, which are slow on the water and spend long periods at sea. Their decks are the drying space for netted, hooked or harpooned sea creatures cut into prized parts to dehydrate under a blistering tropical sun. The fishermen work long hours for little pay and no comfort, the traders and merchants make all the profit on the voyage, and the formula works with ruthless efficiency and all too successfully.

One segment of the dried seafood business is devoted to fulfilling gourmet ingredients for Chinese gastronomy, such as sea cucumber for sauces and shark fins for soup; the other segment is what is known as the Traditional Chinese Medicine market, where dried seafood joins other desiccated plunder of the natural world: rhino horn, tiger penis, seahorse exoskeletons and the like. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine assert that these ingredients are therapeutic and have legitimate curative use; the 2,000-year history of Traditional Chinese Medicine cannot simply be dismissed due to Western prejudices. Science is ever evolving and although some may turn their noses up at animal ingredients used in medicine, no one can say with any certainty why some things appear to work for some people and some do not. (Before you scoff: just ask yourself why chicken soup is so often prescribed to combat a common cold in the Western world?)

What can be said is that if an ingredient or compound has not been recorded in the meticulously detailed, long written history of Traditional Chinese Medicine, then it is not a studied and recognized remedy.
The use of manta ray gill rakers has no recorded history as an ingredient in TCM in any of the literature. It is only being recommended now and in the past ten years by a new generation of entrepreneurs playing upon the fears and superstitions of an unsophisticated but suddenly affluent clientele. Manta gill rakers are sold as a miraculous ingredient of a cleansing tonic or soup. The vendor spins his or her tale of the incredible properties of the gills, using crackpot reasoning about filtering seawater. Surely, they claim, there is a benefit from this filtration – especially when considering the terrible air pollution over China’s cities. Or they bolster the immune system; or perhaps act as an anti-inflammatory; or as a cure for cancer; or the chicken pox or, or, or… fill in the blank.

The term ‘snake oil salesman’ has a long history associated with charlatans selling pseudo-science to a gullible public. Today, the snake oil salesman has been supplanted by the Chinese seller of manta ray gill rakers. Sellers of manta ray gill rakers do not even necessarily label them as such for the consumer. Often, the translation is ‘Peng Yu Sai’ or ‘fish gills’.

As always (and here!), this is as good as it gets.
When Doug Seifert broaches a subject, he only does so after meticulous research and his pieces are always an impressive combination of erudition and eloquence, and garnished with his very unique brand of spectacular pictures. Alas, the online edition of DIVE has done away with most of the pics - but the message and the information are once again a must read. Doug is on the Board of Shark Savers and as such, he is one of the sponsors of the epic Manta Ray of Hope project that tries to find solutions for the very issues addressed in his article.
Should you want to get involved, you can download their epic report right here.

To access Doug's article, you will have to register with DIVE.
It's free and it's easy, so please do. You will then be able to read the article here.


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