Over the last 30 years sharks have become one of the world’s most threatened species! This is for the most part down to the shark finning industry but overfishing, bycatch, habitat destruction and beach nets are all contributing to their downfall.
Shark fin soup is a traditional Chinese dish dating back to the Ming dynasty. It is served at weddings and banquets as a sign of wealth and status. It used to be that only the very wealthy could afford shark fin soup but over the last few decades, as China has grown in affluence, more and more people are able to afford the dish and its popularity has grown dramatically.
So shark finning is a now a multi-billion dollar industry; one pound of dried shark fin can sell for over $300! While shark fins are worth a lot of money, the rest of the body is not. This has led to the practice known as ‘finning’ because fishermen simply remove shark fins at sea and dump the rest of the shark back overboard; they don’t want to waste precious storage space on anything but the valuable fins. Shark fins are regularly removed whilst the sharks are still alive, when thrown overboard without their fins they are doomed to a slow and painful death.
Shark fins add texture to the soup but are flavourless so chicken, pork or seafood are added to give the soup taste.
It is impossible to know exactly how many sharks are killed annually for their fins as so much shark fishing is done illegally. Estimates range from 30 million to over 70 million sharks a year.
Why do people eat shark?
Many people believe that sharks are immune to all disease and that by eating shark they too can become immune to disease, in particular cancer. However this is completely false; it is true that sharks are particularly resilient to disease and do not often get ill, but they do sometimes. They are not immortal! Sharks have been known to get cancer, including cancer of the cartilage that their fins consist of.
Shark cartilage and shark liver oil pills are often marketed with claims they can cure everything from asthma to HIV; there is no scientific evidence to prove that they cure anything. In fact shark meat has been found to contain dangerously high levels of mercury so eating shark products is more likely to harm you than do you good.
Shark fin soup in the UK
You might imagine that this is something which is happening in other parts of the world, but unfortunately the UK is very much involved! The EU has historically been one of the biggest suppliers of shark fin to the Asian market. Campaigning and lobbying by conservationists and the public have forced new, stronger laws to be passed by the EU which will hopefully put an end to shark finning in EU waters. SEA LIFE London played an important role in this victory collecting over 15,000 of the 50,000 paper signatures on The Shark Alliance’s petition to safeguard Europe’s sharks!
However there still remains the big issue of shark fin soup and other shark products being sold and eaten here in the UK! There are over 60 restaurants in Britain that still serve up the dish; something that does not sit well with us here at SEA LIFE London or with shark and marine conservation charity Bite-Back.
Bite Back Shark and Marine Conservation
Bite Back are a fantastic charity dedicated to saving sharks! Bite-Back believe in consumer power; through our purchase decisions we can send a clear message to industry about what we think of products that are made from endangered species. And it’s not just sharks that they work to protect: Bite-Back encourage their supporters to put pressure on supermarkets still selling extremely vulnerable species including swordfish, marlin, monkfish, skate and non-certified tropical prawns. They’ve had many successes but are always striving for more!
In response to the number of UK restaurants still serving shark fin soup, Bite Back have hooked up with celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to launch ‘Hacked Off!’, a campaign which aims to make Britain the first country in the world to ban the controversial dish from restaurants. Bite-Back are identifying all restaurants in the UK with shark fin on the menu and urge supporters to join them in making some noise; boycotting and writing complaints to all restaurants which serve up shark fin soup!
Guests who visit SEA LIFE London can show support of the campaign by donating via our Bite Back charity vortex. They can also learn more about the threats which sharks face and what we can do to help protect them.