Is the shark fin ban culturally biased?

February 22, 2012

A man walks past shark fins at a dried seafood store in Hong Kong. (Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images)

The story gave plenty of ink to Giam Choo Hoo, who the story identified as “a member of a United Nations body on endangered species.” Here’s the catch: I interviewed Giam for my book, “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” and he wears a few hats. While he does participate in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), he’s also a representative of the shark fin industry in Singapore.

The article states:

“Shark’s fin soup is culturally discriminatory,” said Dr. Giam, noting that there have not been similar high-profile movements against caviar, which is highly endangered according to CITES, or Atlantic blue fin tuna, which is also considered to be endangered.

Apparently, Giam missed the hotly contested debate at CITES in 2010, when the U.S. and several other countries, including Monaco, unsuccessfully pushed to ban the trade of blue fin tuna.

And he also missed the Caviar Emptor campaign, which resulted in the ban of most beluga caviar imports to the U.S. in 2005. As Americans switched to buying farm-raised U.S. caviar, sales for a single eco-friendly caviar farmer increased 500 percent in four years.

While the ban on beluga imports has eased some pressure on sturgeon populations overseas, three weeks ago, federal officials put Atlantic sturgeon on the endangered species list. However, at this point, accidental catch of Atlantic sturgeon is a bigger threat to the fish than caviar consumption.

So perhaps pricey fish delicacies attract environmentalists’ ire regardless of their specific cultural cache. We’ll likely hear plenty more about it as New York legislators debate the newly unveiled draft law banning trade in shark fins.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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