Shark fin soup: your thoughts

Matt Leppard 18 March 2010 15 comments

Shark fin soup – do you eat it?


This is obviously a contentious question in Asia, where “food ethics” seem to be a little different than in the West.

While sharks are often seen as dangerous, undesirable and are usually feared, does the act of finning separate out this foodstuff from any other act involved in food production? That is, can carnivores who eat factory-farmed food, with animals raised often in cruel and inhumane conditions reasonably separate this out from shark fin “production”? Can someone buy and eat a locally slaughtered chicken at a wet market, but criticize those who eat shark fin soup?

Other arguments are less emotive: sharks are an apex predator (top of the food chain) in many ecosystems, which means that when they decline or eventually vanish, those ecosystems suffer immense inbalances. Shark finning is a way of satisfying human “taste” (as opposed to nutritional need) at the expense of nature, but isn’t most modern food production? Discuss… –Matt Leppard

15 Comments For This Post

  1. dbillian dbillian Says:

    No, I don’t eat shark fin soup. Cultural expectations aside, there are two reasons I don’t eat shark fin soup:

    1. Sharks aren’t *grown* on mass-produced farms like chickens are (in other words, chickens are more easily replenished).
    2. It is not uncommon for the shark to simply be dumped in the ocean after the fins have been cut off. Much of the body is wasted in this circumstance, unlike cows where we might use many of the parts for other things (leather, pet food, etc.).

  2. Matt Leppard Matt Leppard Says:

    Hi dbillian
    Yes, I do agree with your points. I don’t eat shark fin soup, for a whole bunch of reasons. But is it crueller to “grow” and “harvest” factory animals often in unsanitary and unpleasant conditions, with questionable slaughtering methods, or is nature itself “red in tooth and claw,” with shark finning no better or worse than what happens every single second, minute and hour in the natural kingdom?

    Of course, I am playing devil’s advocate here.


  3. Benjamin Benjamin Says:

    Eating shark fin is uncivilised. I’m no vegetarian, but I do think it is civilised and proper to support good animal welfare, good standards, and the minimum of pain and cruelty, while accepting it is natural to eat meat as a source of nutrition.

    Easting shark fin fails all the tests. It is somehow a “status food”, but of little benefit. The killing of sharks for fins woefully fails any civilised welfare practice, and is environmentally unsound.

    Sharks, of course, are a part of the ecosystem of the world. Like whales, and any other species, they need to be protected and respected, even if, at the same time, it is accepted that humans can exploit them in some way. However, the practice of eating shark fin deplorably fails any good standards related to the environment, welfare, and ethics.

  4. Matt Leppard Matt Leppard Says:

    Benjamin, you make some excellent, valid points. This time not playing devil’s advocate, I was vegetarian for some 12 years (18-30); it’s hard now for me to accept that I was vegetarian for so long, with what I regard(ed) as sound principles, where now I eat meat, including veal. This is simply and directly a result of the smell of fried chicken wings; this led me down a slippery “what the heck” slope. But some would and could (and I hope they do) argue a reason FOR eating shark fin simply because it tastes nice, or is a cultural norm, since the overwhelming arguments seem to be against. There must be some who disagree, and on this forum, no one is going to be castigated or chastised for their opinion.

  5. Benjamin Benjamin Says:

    Sorry, I did not mean to castigate anyone. There seems to be great divide between “fundamentalist” vegetarians, and carnivores. Some carnivores argue that it is hypocritical and pointless to have any concern for welfare standards, and therefore “anything goes”. But this, in my view, involves a ‘race to the bottom’, which ultimately reflects poorly on the human race, and has implications for health and the environment.

    Some vegetarians, however, are so fundamentally opposed to all meat eating that they too cannot consider the arguments. As I say, eating meat does does mean one should be unconcerned about standards generally, and nor does it mean that there should be no lines drawn. I have had arguments about this with both vegetarians and meat eaters.

  6. RJtravels RJtravels Says:

    I have nothing against eating meat and/or fish, but I do not order shark fin soup. What bothers me is the way the fins are obtained, and what would bother me is if the shark caught for this was a protected species. If sharks were farmed and killed in the same manner as e.g. farmed salmon, would eating shark fin soup still be less ethical than eating salmon/sushi though? Although I understand people want to give off a signal by boycotting this dish, maybe the discussion is about how a protected animal is tortured and slaughtered, rather than if it is OK to eat shark fin soup? I’d have no second thoughts on foie gras for example, if the duck/goose had not been force fed. After all, it’s ethically OK to eat the breast or leg from probably the same bird, right?

    If we protect endangered species, and ensure we inflict the least amount of pain and suffering when growing/killing animals, the problem would be solved I think. What say you?

  7. themerg themerg Says:

    If it smells good,eat it

  8. oayoyo oayoyo Says:

    I quit eating it just right after seeing awful pics how human beings did with an animal which can’t help itself! Just had an experience few days ago during my recent biz trip, one of the menu was shark fin soup! Although I tried to persuade them by mentioning about the pics…still they don’t care at all!

  9. Matt Leppard Matt Leppard Says:

    “themerg” makes a good point, although in humor. Charles Darwin famously dined on a number of species whose biology/behavior he used to formulate the theory of evolution, including giant tortoises. He was also an unusually odd man

    Are we species-ist in our food preferences?

  10. dbillian dbillian Says:

    “don’t eat shark fin soup, for a whole bunch of reasons. But is it crueller to “grow” and “harvest” factory animals often in unsanitary and unpleasant conditions, with questionable slaughtering methods, or is nature itself “red in tooth and claw,” with shark finning no better or worse than what happens every single second, minute and hour in the natural kingdom?”

    A very complex question, one that is loaded with both ethnocentrism & cultural expectations.

    While I may believe that nature is indeed “red in tooth and claw”, human beings have been able to transcend that little tidbit because of our intelligence and ability to pass down hunting methods to future generations. The issue of finning would be far less severe if we turned the clock back one hundred years or so; the simple fact of the matter is that shark populations, if not all marine animals, can’t recover in the same way that our domesticated and terrestrial animals can & that’s why I see such outrage amongst environmentalists. Sharks generally have long gestation periods, with few of the offspring surviving into adulthood, so it is always a negative sum with creatures we find less “cuddly”.

    For the record: I am not a vegan. I do, however, tend to eat chicken over beef & look at eating sushi as a delicacy. That being said, I have a long way to go before I eat a diet like our cousins in the primate kingdom (mostly fruits and veggies, with a small smattering of meat thrown in for good measure).

  11. Kim  Inglis Kim Inglis Says:

    Get a copy of the shark documentary SHARK WATER, then see if you feel like eating Shark’s Fin Soup. Check out this link for more info:
    Sharks have been around since before the dinosaurs, and at no point before or since have they been in as much danger as they are now. It’s an exceptionally poor reflection on the human species – but hey what’s new?

  12. MarkLean MarkLean Says:

    Likewise, is farmed crocodile or python skin a more ethical option, a get-out-of jail card for our conscience? I am not sure. An idea: perhaps shark farms should be set up, preferably within convenient proximity to the Chinatown of every major world city.

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