The ongoing debate over shark fin soup continues in California with proposed legislation which aims to curtail the import of fins and prevent the brutal practice of “finning”. Currently, it is illegal to bring in sharks without the fins, but a loophole exists which allows for the import of fins from countries such as China and Mexico, where animal protection legislation is lax or non-existent. If passed, California would join Hawaii in the efforts to prevent shark fins from making it into the soup bowl. The New York Times recently reported on the issue from California, bringing to light many different viewpoints from the Asian community.
I admire many of the opinions expressed by many of the first generation Americans quoted in this article. It is hard to go against family tradition, especially notoriously traditional Asian families. The concerns they express – environmental and ethical – are backed by science and fact. Finning is cruel and wasteful. Finning not only causes the pain of amputation but also condemns the animal to die slowly, either from suffocation or from being defenselessly picked apart by opportunistic scavengers. Ecologically, the removal of the top ocean predator would be devastating in terms of balance.
In contrast, many of the arguments put forth by their elders seem petty if not downright foolish – the notion that we should be free to eat whatever we want, whatever the cost; the idea that tips for waiters would decrease without shark fins for soup; and so on. Pitted against damning evidence that the shark populations is on the brink of disaster, it is hard to find any respect for this viewpoint.
Many groups have used “culture” as reasons for continuing destructive practices – usually in relation to hunting and eating. The whale hunt is another example. Though perhaps less vicious and less wasteful, it ignores the fact that we are still willfully eating species into extinction. We forget that our technological advances and our incredible ability to kill and destroy efficiently has far outstripped that of our long ago ancestors. And for what? A small bowl of soup, gained at the expense of an animal left to die for lack of appendages?