While I was writing it, I came across a page I tore out of the South China Morning Post in October last year. It includes a letter from Dr Choo-hoo Giam, a member of the animals committee of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. What is particularly interesting about the letter is that Dr Giam points out the extent to which it is not only the Chinese and their notorious shark’s fin soup that are to blame for the devastation of worldwide shark stocks. The main points Dr Giam makes are as follows:
1. The notorious practice of ‘finning’ (where fishermen slice the fins from live sharks and discard the rest of the creature) does take place, but it is not the norm. Most fins are removed from sharks after their deaths.
2. Many sharks are caught as bycatch by fishermen chasing tuna, swordfish and prawns – Dr Giam quotes a WWF source as saying that 100,000 sharks are caught as bycatch every year in the Mediterranean alone.
3. Many poor artisanal fishermen (and it’s artisanal fishermen who catch 80% of the world’s sharks) are too poor to throw away the bodies of the sharks – which are sold onto local markets.
4. Shark is widely eaten, including in Britain as ‘rock salmon’ or ‘huss’, in Germany as sea eel, and in Australia as ‘flake’. Indeed, ‘sharks are caught by all nations and races, for their meat. Fins are a valuable by-product.’
Dr Giam ends the letter by saying: ‘Campaigning to change the Asian palate is wrongly conceived. Shark’s are dying because of universal consumption and they will continue to die and deplete.’
Frankly, the last statement looks like a flimsy attempt at justification: it may be patronising for Westerners to blame the Chinese for eating shark’s fin when they eat shark meat, tuna, cod… and countless other endangered fish themselves, but that’s hardly an argument for everyone to go on eating shark’s fin soup. And, of course, the letter was published in the main English-language newspaper of Hong Kong, which is the world HQ of the shark’s fin trade, and where eating fins is very much part of banquet culture. But the letter as a whole certainly puts Western campaigners’ ire about shark’s fin into some perspective.
What do you blog readers think?