Shark fin soup

From Academic Kids

Shark fin soup [Pinyin "Yu Chi"; Wade-Giles "Y Ch`ih"] is a dish commonly served in Chinese restaurants as part of a Chinese feast, usually at special occasions such as weddings and banquets as a symbol of wealth and prestige.

The name of this soup is not a figure of speech; it is made with genuine shark fins. The fins are trimmed and dried and bleached. Then the fin rays are boiled with chicken stock and other ingredients, then served as soup. Considered a highly prized delicacy, the best shark fin soup can fetch up to US$100 per bowl. Where they are in high demand like in Hong Kong, genuine sharks' fins from sought-after species such as the Hammerhead (Sphyrna spp.), Mako (Isurus spp.), and Blue Shark (Prionace spp.) can sell for US$400 per kilogram. However, there are also cheaper shark fins, usually taken from smaller shark species, used for casual dining.

The quantities used for each bowl of soup may vary from a few needles of fin rays (typical in a US $150 chinese feast), to a whole small fin, or even more. The price depends on the size and quality of shark fin used; shark fin is estimated to cost at least US $4.50 per bowl.

There is an imitation version that may simply be labeled as shark-fin soup (in most cases preceded by the word "imitation" on the product label). This sells for around US $1.50 per bowl. It does not contain shark-fins, but instead is made of mung bean paste vermicelli shaped to resemble shark fins though they are nowhere equivalent to genuine shark fin in either texture or color. It is commonly served in chicken broth, with culinary fungus and pork to enhance the texture and taste.

Shark fin is the second most prized ingredient of the so-called "four treasures of the sea" in Chinese cuisine. The others are abalone (which is always the most expensive), sea cucumber (varies in cost), and fish maw.

According to wildlife conservationists, much of the sharks' fins in the trade are cut from living sharks; this process is called finning. Because shark meat is worth very little, the finless and often still-living sharks are thrown back into the sea to make room for more of the valuable fins. When returned to the ocean, the finless sharks, unable to move, die from suffocation or are eaten by other sharks or animals. Finning is vigorously opposed by animal welfare groups; both on moral grounds and also because it is purportedly a major cause for the rapid decline of global shark populations, in some cases by 99% over the last 50 years, leading conservation ecologists and fishery experts to predict widespread shark extinction in 10 or 20 years. An estimated 100 million sharks are slaughtered each year for their fins, and the industry is valued at 1.2 billion US dollars; because of the lucrative profits, there are allegations of links to organized crime. They also raise questions on the medical harm from the consumption of high levels of toxic mercury reportedly found in shark fins.

In countries such as Thailand and Singapore, public awareness advertisements on finning have reportedly reduced consumption by 25%. In Hong Kong, the oldest chain of restaurants specializing in shark fin soup has reportedly closed, citing lobbying by the animal rights groups as one of the main reasons.

New laws have been passed to prevent finning; though much of the international waters continue to be unregulated. The United States recently issued a ban on finning, applicable only to US-registered vessels, even in US territorial waters; and shark fins cannot be imported into the USA without entire carcasses. International fishing authorities are in the process of banning shark fishing (and finning) in the Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean sea. However shark fishing and finning continues unabated in the Pacific and Indian ocean, supported by those who continue to consume sharkfin as part of traditional chinese cuisine, as well as keeping with the traditional belief that humans hold precedence over other species.

This large-scale removing of sharks may severely unbalance the ecosystem of warm seas by allowing some species of large or middle-sized fish to multiply or grow bigger: for an example see grouper.

External links

References

Baum J.K., Myers R.A., Kehler D.G., Worm B., Harley S.J., Doherty P.A. (2003) — Collapse and Conservation of Shark Populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science, 5605: 389-392.ja:ふかひれ zh:魚翅

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