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Bite Back! – great website and campaign.

June 6, 2011

I like to try interesting food. I’ve tucked in to delicious street food in Thailand, tried all sorts of game in South Africa, eaten nettle cheese, drunk many varieties of tea, added obscure herbs to my cooking and I will continue to experiment with food in the name of culinary extravagance.

However, there are some things you will never see me trying. Shark fin soup is one of them. Like many ocean species, sharks are at threat from fishing activities. But worse than this, many sharks species are also at threat from a trade selling only their fins. Thrown back in to the sea, often still alive, many are condemned to a slow death, their life a tragic waste – not really in the name of food but merely to satisfy consumers demand for an exotic soup with supposed beneficial properties.

I can’t really think of any argument to support this barbaric trade. Even if there were benefits to eating shark fin, it is a wasteful, cruel and unsustainable trade. Whilst those actually finning the sharks may be poor and desperate for a source of income, this market would not exist were it not for support from the western world. Here is an excellent website for those of you in UK detailing where sharks and other vulnerable species are being sold. You can make the choice not to support these businesses and to email them explaining why 🙂

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Hepe permalink
    June 7, 2011 5:22 am

    I can’t see that there could be any ‘pro’ arguement either on nutritional grounds or upon divine flavour. Perhaps those that eat them might reserve a right based upon that most spurious of ‘old chestnuts’, the claim of historical and cultural sensitivity. It’s a relief that in a desperate wish for individuality we don’t yet have that claim made by cultures that in their history and culture practiced human sacrifice and headhunting. We do have the ‘tradition’ of piracy resurected and some of the most backward cultures in the World still cling to stoning their women to death on the grounds of ‘culture and tradition?

    My guess would be that in those countries where sharks fin soup is a dish simply cooked it as one more piece of a bloody great piece of meat, a whole shark. If, in history, you have wrestled one of those things into an open boat way out at sea you certainly are not going to throw the rest of it away. No, fin soup was just a variation of what must have been a rather large food item available at one go. Try finding all the recipes necessary to deal with a glut of pears and see if you don’t come up with the fruit equivalent of SFS somewhere in the mix?
    The problem is cutting the fins and throwing the rest back, surely a classic illustration of a general attitude problem we face in food supply. The ‘middle man’, he with the bodega and the truck, has to sell to live. He will only transport in his limited space what he can sell (fins) and the fisherman will only give the limited space in his boat to those things the middleman will buy, so overboard go very useful carcases. In the modern World what I describe in both boat and truck as limited space may these days be a very large space indeed, but that is an illustration of how a historical practice does not get rethought and is simply perpetuated. A classic example is the suspicion that the railway guage in the USA is based upon the width of two Roman horses arses. We shall meet the middleman again in our conversations, I believe he is a significant part of the problem.

    • June 7, 2011 9:48 am

      Yes, I agree with the middle man problem. It occurred to me after reading the article about the cows and MRSA the other day – the cows and farmers are suffering, as is health, but someone (i.e. the middle man) is making money from that sorry situation.

      I also agree that the waste of the shark fin industry makes it very difficult to deal with, however I wouldn’t really be any happier if the whole shark was being used for several reasons:
      1. Many shark species are already endangered as a result of bycatch from fishing pressures.
      2. Sharks are a top predator and this has 2 issues:
      – They breed comparitively slowly and so are naturally more prone to overfishing due to inability to recover on appropriate timescales.
      – They bio-accumulate toxic substances as a result of being top of the food chain – dangerous levels of methylmercury have been found in shark flesh and I worry that poor people finning for this trade will eat the rest of the meat. In fact I think in Mozambique this is already a problem. There’s a new book out called “Man and Shark” which covers this. We also receive a great local dive magazine which covers this topic as it develops page 51 onwards details a new documentary called “shiver”

      Actually there’s probably a 3rd issue there in terms of top down control and ecosystem health etc.

  2. Pancakes Labyrinth permalink
    June 7, 2011 8:27 am

    Ok, so it’s a little bit off topic, but the above makes me wonder if there is any justification for a practice based solely on its social role as ‘tradition’. The answer ‘because we always have’ to the question ‘why do you do this?’ and the further imposition of the event as a right guaranteed through repetition seems like supreme arrogance to me.

    Back on topic, Tesco and Marko have both felt the wrath of my searing hot, email vengeance. Whilst I completely and totally support this campaign, I wonder (and I wonder this a lot) why there is not more legal protection for these animals at the consumer end of the market. Victimising the supplier is largely pointless as they are often poor and geographically distant – but hitting at the end point-of-purchase, well now, they are wealthy and right next to you and are liable to be much more responsive. Despite the best efforts of campaigns like this, I do not currently put much faith in an en-mass ethical-walk-away when it comes to less emotive species involved in equally barbaric practices.

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