Earlier last week, California Assemblymen Paul Fong and Jared Huffman introduced Assembly Bill 376 to make illegal the trade in shark fins in the state. Shark fins are primarily bought and sold for use in shark fin soup.
Shark fin soup is a Chinese culinary tradition going back about a thousand years. The soup usually consists of an intense broth, or consommé, often with pieces of chicken, pork, shellfish, and vegetables in addition to the namesake ingredient. Like so many dishes once limited to special occasions (specifically weddings in this case), the dish is increasingly consumed in China and Japan’s daily diet.
Given that Chinese culture has been so influential in California, it’s no surprise that Assemblymen Hong and Huffman are concerned about the wider ecological effects of “sharking”. Fong himself grew up eating the soup, recently abandoning it upon learning about these effects. Critics of the bill argue it is discriminatory and unfair to ban a traditional ingredient in Chinese cuisine.
Personally, the last thing I want to see in my bowl of soup is a shark fin (insert creepy Jaws music in background). I remember going to a restaurant in Chinatown a few years ago, and my friend ordered a bowl of the controversial soup. Not being a fish or meat eater, I didn’t understand the appeal. However, it isn’t my cultural tradition, so do I have the right to criticize it?
Fong being a Chinese American definitely brings credibility to the bill. It is certainly easier to get behind someone who has an intimate relationship with the tradition in question. Other countries have taken steps to counter the mass depletion in shark populations around the world (including Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Maldives). The key is to get the home country on board.
Of course, like so many things that are unsavory for the environment, how do we influence an industry that is so profitable? Money talks and there are probably millions of fishermen and food workers who depend on the shark fin market for their livelihood. At what point do the rights of the ocean to maintain its ecosystem come into play?
Photo courtesy of Dan Bednarski