NY BAN EXCLUDES ONE TYPE OF SHARK
The one exception to the New York State ban on shark finning is the dogfish shark.
Sometimes known as spiny dogfish, it has two dorsal fins which are mildly venomous, making them toxic to humans, so their fins are not used for fin soup.
Dogfish sharks are also the most abundant type of shark in the North Atlantic and are caught mostly for their meat. There is “no incentive for fisherman to fin that shark, since they utilize the whole shark”, said Iris Ho, wildlife program manager at the Humane Society International. fin, so when California and Hawaii and Washington state banned the fins, a lot of the fins went to Illinois and New York,” Kwan said. “There was news that some of the restaurants were selling it to buyers in Connecticut.”
New York’s shark fin ban is a huge step in reducing overall consumption in the US, particularly after the California ban went into effect in July 2013, said Jamie Pang, legal fellow at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).
“Because New York and California are the biggest states [that have this ban], we do believe it will have a sizable market difference because of the size of the market, and because it sets a good example for the other states if the two largest states that were importing it did enact a ban,” she told China Daily.
Since New York has been a shark-fin source for merchants from other states, demand along the East Coast will probably decline as a result of the ban, Pang said.
The Empire State has the highest number of Chinese restaurants with shark fin soup on their menus, according to a database compiled by the AWI. Shark fin consumption is mostly concentrated along the US coasts with their larger Chinese populations, and there are more than 60 Chinese restaurants in New York that serve the dish, compared to, for example, five in Kansas.
Though those in New York who want shark fin soup after July 1 won’t have a very hard time getting it in neighboring states that don’t have a ban — such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut — the newer generation of Chinese and Chinese Americans have become less interested in the dish over time, according to Kwan.
For restaurants, shark fin soup is a low-profit-margin dish because the ingredients are so expensive, Kwan said. For Chinese, shark fin as a status symbol makes buying and consuming the dish a burden too, he said.
“When we do outreach, the older folks are like, ‘I can’t wait for you to ban the fins because I don’t want to feel the pressure of serving it’. It’s kind of one of those things were Mrs. Chen’s daughter’s daughter had 10-inch fins and they feel like they need a bigger fin, or a fancier thing. I’ve always said, the dish is really a status symbol and a ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ sort of fish, so people feel the obligation to serve it,” he said.
But for many Asians — particularly in China — shark fin is still an ultimate status marker.
For almost a millennium shark fin has been one of the ultimate culinary delicacies in China. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, shark fin has consumed in soup form. Shark fin made up such a small portion of a shark that it was a precious food only the emperor had the privilege to consume.
As a food meant for the wealthy, it fell out of favor after the founding of PRC in 1949 when shark fin was a symbol of conspicuous consumption. After Deng Xiaoping opened up the country, instituted reforms, and the Chinese economy took off, shark fin consumption became mainstream again. It has since become a traditional part of dinner parties and banquets, with the Chinese consuming the most shark fin from October to February, when weddings are held and holidays fall. Awareness campaigns
While China still consumes the biggest portion of shark fin worldwide, animal interest groups and the government have sought to educate people about how sharks are killed for their fins, causing shark-fin consumption to steadily decrease.
The Chinese government announced that it would ban shark fin soup from government banquets by 2015, which the Hong Kong government has done. As part of a bigger takedown of corruption under the new administration, the Chinese government also banned luxurious banquets altogether, which has impacted high-priced luxury goods and foods usually given or consumed at these banquets.
In 2006, former NBA player Yao Ming, actor Jackie Chan and film director Ang Lee were part of social awareness campaigns against shark fin consumption.
“As soon as people realize that what their consumption of shark fin has an impact on the animals, most of them voluntarily push to not eat shark fin again. It’s about public education, it’s about getting the message out, it’s about reaching as many people as possible,” said Iris Ho, wildlife program manager at the Humane Society International.
“Once they understand the cruelty inflicted on sharks, once they understand that eating shark fins decimates shark populations, they are very happy to give up eating shark fin. The cruelty message resonates.”
Demand in mainland China is still much stronger than within the Chinese communities in the US, but China has made tremendous strides in its anti-shark-finning efforts, Ho said.
“If you’re comparing the Chinese community here in the US and Chinese mainlanders community, obviously people here in the US have less interest in consuming shark fins than people in China. After all, that’s why China is the largest market for shark fins,” she said. “But there has been tremendous progress in China as well.”
Shark finning is the practice of removing just the fins from sharks and then discarding the fish back into the ocean, where the sharks can no longer swim or pass water through their gills, and die from suffocation or blood loss.
Because many kinds of sharks from where the most valuable fins are cut are big and heavy, keeping shark bodies on often small-sized vessels after they are finned is not economically viable. There is a market for shark meat, but demand has been relatively static and the profit isn’t nearly as high as with fins, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. So hunters fin the sharks while they are still alive and then throw the animals back into the sea.
“By keeping only the fins, fishing vessels can take more sharks on a single voyage, making the hunting ruthlessly efficient and increasing the likelihood of draining the oceans of sharks,” AWI wrote in a brochure about sharks at risk. Many sharks are also caught accidentally as “bycatch” and are finned “opportunistically”, AWI noted.
The depleting shark population is of concern