Considering Shark's Fin as a Dish, Not Just a Cause

Categories: 'Eat'
This week's review is actually not a review, though it involved a little professional eating. It's more of an essay, inspired by the brouhaha that emerged over the introduction of AB-376, Paul Fong and Jared Huffman's bill to ban the sale and import of shark's fin in California.

It's easy for people who have never eaten shark's fin to be caught up in the horror over the practice of shark finning. It's also easy for the conversation to shift from "How can we stop this dire threat to sharks and the ocean ecosystem?" to vilifying diners who were brought up learning to savor shark's fin and haven't yet made the connection between the ingredient and the destructive fishing practice at its source.

I wanted to step back and consider the issue from a purely culinary viewpoint: What does shark's fin taste like? When and why is it served? And what would it mean, from a cultural perspective, to stop serving it? Moral indignation and anger, however altruistic their source, aren't going to sell this ban to all voters. More practical questions like "How could we obtain this ingredient some other way?" or "What could we serve instead?" may be more effective.

SFoodie's coverage of AB-376 is hardly over. Like me, you can even track its progress through the state assembly by signing up for e-mail alerts. And I still haven't located a Cantonese restaurateur or chef who has stopped serving shark's fin since news of AB-376 broke. If any of you encounter one, let me know ― I'd love to talk to him or her for the blog (finding translators isn't a problem).

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It is amazing how folks do not understand how insignificant they are.

This 'campaign' is much to do about nothing.

With the rise of China, we better eat all the shark fin soup we can now.

Assuming only top 1% of China can afford it, this is more than 10 million people.

In a few years, there may not be any sharks left unless you can raise them in farms.

Good luck trying to convince the upper class in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to stop eating shark fin lol  : )

That may cause WW3, whereas

I for one even brought a geiger counter to make sure the shark fin does not come from Japan, and even have a chelating diet for the mercury.

Though it is really strange why all the caring concern about PCB mercury etc, because these materials do not accumulate in the cartilage of sharks.

However, do beware not to eat too much blue fin tuna - the nice fatty tuna belly parts do accumulate the bad stuff.


Human don't eat sharks...sharks eat 

Sean Van Sommeran
Sean Van Sommeran

The issue is plain and simple,Shark fin soup as a 'dish' is contaminated with bio accumulative pollutant loads such as mercury, pcb, trace organo-chlorines. It isnt wise to consume it.

Furthermore, the destructive shark fin fishery targets species such as whale sharks, basking sharks, white sharks, hammerheads and other species of top level vertebrates as especially prized and priority 'products' with single whale shark dorsal fins being sold for over $1000.oo per fin.

These and other species such as blue sharks and oceanic white tip sharks have been hugely impacted by the destructive fisheries practices and it's largely underground and black market trade and exports. Poaching is a world wide growth industry and the Sharkfin Trade is leading the attack on the ocean's large vertebrates and sharks via the use of high seas factory ship drift gill-netting and long lining operations.

Moreover, by addressing the matter in a tip-tow, "well then what else can I sell you?" resolution is not very persuasive. I'll pass on the caviar in favor of the sturgeon every time and shark fin soup is just as easy.

Try the cioppino, sopa marinera or chowder why dont you?

Likewise, when I go and greedily consume my sushi and/or sashimi I have to pass on blue fin tuna; for ethical reasons.

Shark fin trade should be banned in California just as it has been banished from Hawaii, Guam, the Marianas, the Marshall Islands in the elsewhere in the Pacific.

Cordially,Sean(Mahalo)S.R. Van SommeranPelagic Shark Research FoundationSince 1990

David McGuire
David McGuire

What resonates is that we humans can alter our behavior for the benefit of the planet. Preservation of species vital for the health of the oceans, and humans outweighs a dietary indulgence.

Julie Wright
Julie Wright

The argument that it is a "cultural" dish holds very little water when you consider that, traditionally, sharkfin was reserved for the emporer (Ming Dynasty) because it was rare. The rest of the population didn't (couldn't) eat it. Recently a Californian politician has called it a "staple"-rice is a staple, bread is a staple,sharkfin is NOT.Over the last few decades, fishing methods have become more industrial, more sharks taken as bycatch & more fins were available. Coincidentally, over the same period of time, the chinese economy has boomed,more people with new wealth demand this "status symbol" & the destructive & unsustainable activity of shark-finning has developed. The primary motivation of the finners and the consumers is money- the former wish to make it quickly, the latter want to show it off.Incidentally, in Beijing, a survey of people who regularly eat sharkfin soup, showed that 76% of them didn't realise it contained real shark fin! What does that tell us?

Yvonne Chu
Yvonne Chu

Shark fin soup is served at family gatherings, weddings, business dinners. In Bay Area Chinese restaurants, shark fin soup often comes as part of a set meal. I grew up eating dishes like shark fin soup, roast pig, Peking duck, steam fish etc.In business dinners, shark fin soup is often ordered largely because it is expensive and thus a sign of honoring your guest. This is analogous to giving diamond engagement rings in the U.S. -- an expensive diamond ring may be used to indicate your high regard for your S.O.. In this respect, shark fin soup can be replaced with another soup which is equally or more expensive.My parents are in business and they order shark fin soup for guests because they perceive that the guests expect it. If shark fin soup is no longer on the menu, they will simply order another item on the menu. It makes no difference to them whether or not shark fin soup is on the menu.Chinese cuisine is my favorite type of food -- I grew up in Hong Kong where the Cantonese cuisine is probably the best in the world. Among the dishes I've eaten, shark fin soup is very good if prepared expertly, but it's certainly not among the most exciting. Not even close. I believe its function is mostly social (its expense as a sign of regard). Sometimes Chinese replace it with crab seafood soup, or bird's nest soup (selected because it's expensive), or abalone soup (expensive)...Here's a delectable bowl of crab seafood soup: http://vishotel.files.wordpres...And here's a list of other alternatives to shark fin soup, including one that tastes very similar: What would happen to Cantonese cuisine if shark fin soup is no longer available?Nothing. Cantonese cuisine has numerous excellent dishes and talented chefs constantly come up with new dishes. If you're ever in Hong Kong, I'll recommend several must-try restaurants. I guarantee you'll have an outstanding dinner even if it doesn't include shark fin soup.

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