It's one of the most prized ingredients in China, considered to have therapeutic virtues, the traditional shark fin soup is being questioned by the new generation. You will discover why people kill millions of sharks every year to drink this soup and what it represents in the Asian world 🌏 and especially for the Chinese!



Shark fin history

To understand why shark fin soup is popular, we have to go far back in time until the dynasties, let's go for a quick history : 

  • Song Dynasty (960-1280). Because of its high price, its supposed therapeutic virtues and its taste, shark fin soup was exclusively cooked for the emperor and the nobility. 
  • Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it was during this period that shark fins became established in Chinese traditions, a testimony of respect by hosts towards their guests and a must at official banquets.
  • Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) it is during this period that shark fin soup 🍲was really created
  • At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 20th century, it is because the standard of living of the population will improve that the soup will be democratized. Considered as a luxury product, The communist governments of the post-war period tried to curb the consumption of shark fin soup. But due to political and economic changes, the middle class level rose and the prices of shark fins exploded all over the world, becoming one of the most luxurious products in the world.

Thus, just like the latest luxury car, shark fins have become an important social marker symbolizing success, wealth and power. It is now "mandatory" in the collective consciousness to have this dish on menus for special occasions such as weddings and important parties. Its absence from these receptions is rather frowned upon.

It is during the wedding season and Chinese New Year that the peak of fin consumption is at its peak.

What are the supposed virtues of shark fin soup?

The virtues granted to fins are derived from ancient books of traditional Chinese medicine, that grant them important therapeutic values such as : 
  • the improvement of memory and sexual desire, 
  • the fight against diseases, 
  • the fortification of bones, lungs, kidneys and many other organs and body parts.

Although, it seems advantageous to consume it should be known that no scientific data validates these benefits. Recent studies have also proven the potential danger of consuming it. 🦈

In reality, the nutritional values of shark fin soup are almost nil. Indeed,  
Ceratotriches (deep skin tissue made of protein fiber) consumed in high doses are dangerous to health because of the pollutants bioaccumulated by sharks. 

Is fin soup a cure for cancer?

In recent years, on the internet we can see that fin soup could prevent and/or cure cancer. If I drink fin soup or take shark fin cartilage pills, will I strengthen my immune system? What do scientists say and what studies have been done to prove it?

Before answering to these questions, it is necessary to know how cancers develop. Cancerous tumors to develop will create new blood vessels from existing blood vessels this is called angiogenesis (this term is important for the following) which is the basis for the spread of cancer in the human body because blood vessels circulate blood in the body and therefore make the cancer cells circulate to other organs.

Since some studies on shark DNA 🧬 and shark cartilage pills have been carried out, the idea has been circulating that by eating fin soup, we could cure and prevent certain types of cancer and all this thanks to a protein that blocks angiogenesis. This was clearly disproved in 2007 by a study that explain that the protein, AE-941 (extracted from shark cartilage), degrades before it has any effect on tumours.

Mahmood Shivji, biologist at Nova Southeastern University and co-author of the new shark genome study points out that eating shark products will not strengthen your genes to resist cancer. He says by the way:
"We want to avoid giving people the impression that if they eat sharks, it will cure their diseases," Shivji said. "It's as silly as saying, "If you eat sharks, you will hold your breath better".

Poisoned fins

Published in the journal Marine Drugs scientists from the University of Miami have published an important discovery. 

According to their study, shark fins would contain a neurotoxin ☠️ (a toxic substance that acts on the nervous system) produced by cyanobacteria (formerly called blue algae), are photosynthetic bacteria (i.e. they take advantage of solar energy to synthesize their organic molecules filled make plants) named BMMA (beta-N-methylamino-L-alamin), fed in part by water pollution. 

This neurotoxin is believed to be linked to neurodegenerative diseases. It has been observed in people who have died from Alzheimer's disease or Charcot's disease. In this study, it was found that there was a high presence of BMMA in their brains, whereas healthy people did not have it.

The results of the toxicological analyses conducted by the Miami team are indisputable. The concentrations of BMMA found in the dorsal swim of these animals are very high. With these studies we can to conclude that it is potentially dangerous to consume shark fin soup.

Hopefully these scientific facts will be more listened to by consumers who want to preserve their health.

Economic Motivation

In spite of the protection plan of international organizations such as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and several governments around the world such as Canada and some United States of America, sharkfinng : the technique that consists of fishing sharks, removing their fins and flippers and throwing them into the sea where they will suffocate and die at the deep of the water ; is far from over as between 2000 and 2005 it represents a large percentage of the reported value of shark products, which reached $237 million in 2002 and $310 million in 2005. 

 

On January 24, 2020, in the port of Miami, Florida approximately 1,400 pounds of shark fins were seized with a commercial value of between $700,000 and $1 million. The dried fins were mixed with other unprotected and unregulated animal products. This illegal shipment included protected species listed under CITES.
Shark fin soup illegal in 13 U.S states and 3 U.S territories.

The shark soup price

In 2011, the price of fins was around $700 per kilo💰. Knowing that only about 30 grams of fins are used to make soup, making this "ingredient" one of the most expensive fishing products in the world. 
In addition, the price depends on the type of fin which can reach between 300 to 3 000 dollars in hong kong for 600 gr.

It is clear that the financial value of this trade leads many people to kill and slaughter sharks. So when the problem is economic, wouldn't the only way to do is to stop consuming them?

Less demand = less supply = less dead shark.

This is what some NGOs base their main action on. 


NGOS and foundations

So it is for these fins that each year man fishes and kills. 70,000 million sharks. Whose trading hub is in Hong Kong🇭🇰. But more and more voices are being raised to protect sharks : celebrities, politicians and business leaders are all united to discourage the consumption of shark fin soup.

This is notably the case of certain foundations and international NGOs as OCEANA and WildAid whose main mission is to put an end to the illegal wildlife trade in our lives. For the NGO everything is a result of supply and demand, the more the population want to eat fins and the more fishing will increase. So, it's simply an economic issue.

Wildaid, is the only organization that has decided to focus its action on communication; whose message is "when the buying stops, so does the killing". 

In 2014, Wildaid published a report, according to which prices and sales of shark fins in China would be down 50 to 70%. 

According to a compilation of information based on surveys of shark fin suppliers, traders located in Guangzhou, (which is the center of shark fin trade in China) and surveys of Indonesian fishermen's fin prices. 

Jackie chan campaign no to shark fin soup

This significant decline is also due to the growing mistrust of buyers who see fake shark fins appearing in the market, multiple NGO awareness campaigns and the support of celebrities such as Yao Ming, Jackie Chan, Maggie Q, Morgane freeman, david beckham, and other celebrities.
The ban on serving this soup at official state banquets in Hong Kong and China is also taking effect. 

Economic, cultural, traditional, and illegal methods have led the IUCN to classify many shark species as vulnerable and endangered. 🆘. So, it is important to act and to start, just talk about it. 

The mentality of the new generations in China is changing and the trade is declining thanks to many NGOs and especially thanks to people who have become aware of what is at stake for our oceans and our planet.

What should be done at our level to save sharks?

There is no miracle but just common sense. To preserve our world, our oceans, the fauna and flora, we must raise awareness and provide people with useful information that could make them aware of their actions, this is what many associations, foundations and NGOs are already doing. So how do we do it?

  • Talk about it around you, spread the message share this page and any other article that could raise awareness and inform people,
  • Of course, do not eat shark fin soup.
  • Make donations if you can,
  • Volunteer for NGOs, foundation, etc. if you can
  • Act with your passion, singer, artists, sportsman... Be creative and communicative.

All good deeds count!