In January 2017, Air China had announced it commitment to banning the transport of shark fin. Many animal conservationists approve of Air China’s leading move, but why are shark fins so controversial?
Shark fin has been used traditionally for decades as the main ingredient to Shark Fin Soup, an Asian delicacy. Though tasteless, shark fin is a luxury item and represents wealth in many Asian cultures. A single bowl of this delicacy easily costs upwards of $100 and is most commonly seen at large banquets and weddings. Serving shark fin soup to guests not only flaunted wealth but was also seen as an act of generosity. And so, this ancient tradition has lead to high demand for shark fins.
The issue lies not in the consumption of shark products, but the illegal harvesting and trading of the fins which leads to mass over consumption of sharks and threats to endangered and protected shark species. Such high demand in the shark fin market causes fisheries to covet shark fin. But fisheries have little to no use for the rest of the shark due to the little profit that can be made in comparison to the fin. A common illegal practice is finning the sharks and tossing them overboard to either drown or bleed out to their death. This inhumane act is both extremely cold-hearted and, in most areas of the world, prohibited.
This is not to say that all shark finning fisheries are cruel and illegal. There are companies that participate in legal and sustainable shark fin trade. The key to fixing the overfishing of shark issue lies in regulation. A complete ban of shark fin would only adversely affect populations that rely on shark as a main source of protein in areas like South and Central America, Asia, and parts of Africa. Sustainable shark fishing that utilizes the whole animal especially in areas where local diet relies on shark is the ideal market. Through the implementation of catch limits and proper protection of endangered species, stopping overfishing is possible.
Many have pointed out how a majority of shark fin trade occurs not through air transport but by sea and the effect Air China will have on the market is not detrimental. But it is not the direct effect Air China will have to fin transport that is most important, it is the message they are delivering. Air China said in an official statement, “We understand the community’s desire to promote responsible and sustainable marine sourcing practices, and this remains important to Air China Cargo’s overall sustainable development goals”.
We can applaud not only Air China for its admirable efforts to push the environmental awareness agenda in China but also the Chinese government for banning shark fin soup at all state banquets. Stateside, many other areas have banned shark fin sale like California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Oregon, Washington, Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Over in London, Chef Gordon Ramsay convinced four leading London Chinese restaurants to stop selling shark fin soup. Consumer behavior is also taking a change with the Fin Free Movement.