Should Shark Fin Soup Be Outlawed?

Update: follow up article here.

The other night while having Chinese at Silver Pond with a friend, we debated about ordering the shark fin soup. "If you were in the ocean, the shark wouldn't think twice about eating you," my friend rationalized. He was hell bent on ordering a bowl. His response didn't move me. Is shark fin soup really still legal?

To harvest fins, ships trolling Central and South America, Taiwan, Indonesia, or Spain catch sharks, slice off fins and toss bodies back -- to the tune of 73 million a year. Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and California have recently banned shark fin trade. And finning is banned in federal waters. Fins are among the most expensive items from the sea, fetching more than $300 a pound. Despite controversy, the market for fins is on the rise as more Chinese attain wealth abroad.

Talk about a guilty pleasure. Served in a glossy, gelatinous broth, shark fin with fresh crab meat is deep and savory, presenting a contrast of texture: the silky liquid, flaky crab, and tiny noodles of cartilage. Shark fin soup has been a delicacy since the Ming Dynasty in the 1400's, an aphrodisiac that allegedly promotes health and slows aging. It embodies the notion of hospitality and keeping face. It's part of a ritual of celebration.

The soup we tried was $15 a cup, with shark fin feathered throughout the soup rather than served like the ears in the photo.Bowls such as the one above cost upwards of $100 a serving.   

"Eat faster," said our waiter. "Finish up." He wasn't trying to rush us so much as chide us for not respecting the ingredients by being quiet and attentive, savoring while it was hot. He was right, though I was distracting myself from the ethical dilemma of having ordered the share with my friend.

Should shark fin soup be banned nationwide? With 30% of sharks facing extinction, I'd hope so. But a ban would hardly protect populations, as the black market and lax international laws turn a blind eye to the practice.

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