Monday, January 23, 2012

Keeping sharks off the dinner table

Sharks are among the wonders and the scourge of the ocean, depending on how one views them. For others, they are a delicacy, or at least their fins are. But it looks like attitudes are changing.

Sharks’ fin soup is a specialty dish in Chinese restaurants around the world and demand for the thick, jelly-like strands, which admittedly is very tasty, has resulted in millions of sharks being killed each year.

Sport fishing is also responsible for a number of shark deaths, though it has much less of an impact.

Of course, suggestions of double-standards would be hurled at those who criticise the killing of sharks for the soup bowls yet condone the consumption of other types of fish. However, the difference here is that the majority of the fish caught end up on the dinner table in whole.

Sharks are often caught only for their fins. These predators of the ocean would be caught, de-finned and thrown back into the sea. Unable to swim, they would simply sink to the sea floor and die.

Conservation group WWW estimates that 73 million sharks are killed each year and that there are more than 180 shark species on the endangered list, compared to 15 in 1996.

After years of campaigning by global NGOs such as WWF, it appears that people are willing to start sacrificing their soup to help sharks survive. Some shops, restaurants and hotels have even given up selling shark fin.

According to an AFP article, restaurants in Asia are experiencing a decrease in the number of customers demanding sharks' fin soup.

“Yes, we do see an increasing number of locals and international businesses saying no to shark’s fin,” said Elaine Tan, chief executive for environmental group WWF in Singapore, told AFP.

A Black-Tip shark off Redang Island on Malaysia's east coast.

“This change in attitude could be due to an increasing awareness of the plight of sharks as well as the result of many shark campaigns worldwide.”

Hong Kong diners represent about 50 per cent of global consumers of sharks’ fin soup. Recently, the grand Peninsula Hotel took the dish off its menu.

China’s best-known pro basketball player, Yao Ming, has helped the cause by swearing off sharks fin.

This is certainly good news for sharks. Divers will know the feeling of awe when spotting a shark during dives. Hopefully, industry players can find a balance between sustainability of species and culinary delights from the depths to ensure that the creatures of the oceans are plentiful while those of us on land can still savour the tastes of delicious seafood.

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