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Shark fin soup: leaving a deadly wake

West Aussie initiative makes waves helping consumers avoid shark fin soup.

Shark fin soup: leaving a deadly wake

The teasing whiff of fish, the hum of a motor, then a giant metal hook pierces your gills.

You’re dragged out of the water. Thrashing helplessly on the deck of a boat, you seem much less ominous than as the looming shadow cutting through water.

A boot presses down over your gills, pinning your body down.

Your fins are sliced off. Down your back, along your side. Your tail is disfigured.

The fishermen have everything they want. Used, your body is discarded, the latest in the boat’s deathly wake.

Unable to move, your body drifts downwards slowly.

Unable to move, the water no longer passes through your gills. You cannot breathe.

Unable to move, scavengers pick at your defenceless flesh.

Unable to move, you starve.

Three days later, you die.

ALL FOR A BOWL OF SOUP

When was the last time you checked to see if shark fin soup was available to order at a restaurant?

If you start looking, you might find that there are actually a lot of restaurants that still serve this traditional meal.

Shark fin soup is a delicacy in many Asian cultures and is served around the world—including in WA.

Live shark finning is banned in Australia. The problem is, lots of fins are imported from other nations where it is not heavily regulated.

So by eating at restaurants that serve the dish, you may inadvertently be supporting the live finning trade.

But there’s another way. An easy way, too.

From WA marine biologist Amanda Elizabeth comes Fin Free Soup, a project that allows us to make informed ethical choices as well as perhaps avoiding the total devastation of marine ecosystems.

SHARKS, PROTECTORS OF THE REEF

Some estimates suggest that 100 million sharks are killed by humans each year—and 73% of these sharks are killed for their fins.

This might sound like good news for the fish that sharks feed on.

But in fact, it could spell disaster for entire ecosystems.

Sharks keep other organisms in check. They predate on medium-sized fish, keeping their population under control. This gives the smaller organisms (such as crabs and molluscs) a fighting chance, and the whole web exists in (relative) harmony.

But with the top dogs over-fished and out of the way, the medium-sized fish can come out and play. And boy, do they play. And eat. And reproduce.

A massive expansion in numbers of medium-sized fish means the smaller organisms they eat get gobbled up faster than they can say, “Darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter.”

This leaves plants and algae to grow unchecked, and before you know it, our coral reefs have turned into wastelands.

All for … nothing.

NON-EXISTENT BENEFITS

Shark fin soup is a traditional dish in several Asian cultures and has many symbolic virtues. But symbolism is about all that’s offered.

Shark fins contribute zero tastiness. Any flavour comes from the other ingredients in which they are cooked. Fins have a chewy, gelatinous texture when cooked—a texture that is now being recreated from other more humane products.

Some believe there are medicinal benefits to eating shark fin soup, but so far, no reliable sources can prove that.

The idea that sharks don’t get cancer was once widespread. So much so that people believed eating shark could reduce one’s risk of developing cancer.

A study conducted at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston even trialled whether a shark fin extract could lengthen survival of lung cancer sufferers. Half of the patients who received the extract were dead by 14.4 months. In the placebo group, half of the patients survived to 15.6 months.

A HEAVY BLOW

Shark fins are made of cartilage, the same thing your nose is made out of. And once you hear the risks of eating shark fin soup, you just might turn your nose up at the idea.

A shark’s spot at the top of a food chain means that toxins accumulate in their tissues at much higher concentrations.

That means shark fin soup is seasoned with sprinkles of mercury.

WildAid, an organisation against illegal wildlife trade, said in 2001 that tests on shark fins revealed concentration of mercury 42 times higher than was safe for humans to consume.

FIN FREE FOR ALL

WA marine biologist Amanda Elizabeth is taking a stand—and giving us a hand up too.

Her project, Fin Free Soup, allows restaurants to identify themselves with stickers as not selling shark fin soup.

An online database logs all registered restaurants on a map, helping consumers see if their local is likely to support the shark fin trade.

Over 200 restaurants have registered on the website.

Amanda Elizabeth is hosting a fundraiser event in November for the cause. She hopes that Fin Free Soup will one day be adopted Australia wide and that legislation will be introduced that bans the sale of shark fin soup in Australia for good.

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