“All the taste comes from the soup. You have to put the shark fin and the soup together,” he said. “To serve the shark’s fin soup is more or less status.”
The power of shark’s fin soup to convey status is enormous, and it pervades Chinese society. Serving shark’s fin soup at auspicious events has been a tradition for centuries among elites, but the Chinese bridal and restaurant industries have turned it into an essential element of any middle-class wedding or important business meal. As China’s economy expands, more people are putting the soup on the menu.
But activists in Asia and elsewhere are challenging the tradition, citing statistics that show the shark-fin trade may kill as many as 73 million sharks a year. It is possibly the single-largest threat to sharks worldwide, along with the incidental catch of sharks in global tuna and swordfish fisheries.
In the United States, which has historically focused on protecting sharks in local and federal waters, states are going after imported shark products. Washington state enacted a law last month to ban the sale and trade of shark fins. A similar bill has passed both legislative houses in Oregon and is awaiting the governor’s signature, and California is poised to adopt its own ban within weeks. Hawaii, Guam and the Marianas Islands have enacted shark-fin bans.
California and its neighboring states were a natural target for conservationists — ports in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco took in more than three tons of shark products from January to March, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“We protect sharks in our own water, but we contribute to the slaughter of sharks worldwide by importing thousands of pounds of shark fins,” said Michael Sutton, who directs the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Center for the Future of the Oceans and helped craft the shark-fin ban that passed the California Assembly last month.
Meanwhile, activists in several other nations are working to enact legislation. The Chilean Senate has approved a bill that would require fishing vessels to land sharks with their fins attached, and its chamber of deputies will probably adopt it in the next few weeks. The Bahamas, hoping to head off foreign shark-fin buyers, is about to ban the commercial harvest of sharks. And the Maldives, which prohibits shark fishing in its waters, is getting ready to implement a ban on the fin trade.
“A few years ago, people didn’t even know there are sharks in Chile,” said Maximiliano Bello, a senior adviser on global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group, who is pushing for similar reforms in Venezuela.