China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

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

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