There’re a couple of events I have had the privilege of attending that I really felt like I was at the right place at the right time. And this year’s ADEX was one of them. Meeting and listening to Dr. Silvia Earle, Nobel peace prize recipient and 2nd president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta, and people like Brazilian filmmaker Cristian Dimitrus, gave me more than inspirations. It is after time like these I really feel like I learned like a sponge and grew like bamboo.
It’s either a coincidence or the editor of this month’s AsianDiver was following my social media interaction with some filmmakers. 😂 As all this talk about shark fin consumption and sustainable seafood has exactly been my focus for the past few months.
“腹下有翅，味并肥美，南人珍之” (明代李时珍《本草纲目》) There is this sentence mentioning shark fin consumption by “the southerners” in Li Shizhen’s Compendium of Materia Medica all the way dating back to Ming dynasty (1500s), southerners at the time being current Guangdong, Vietnam & SE Asia.
Shark fin consumption, however, has come a long way from being just a Chinese problem. In fact if you go to China now you don’t really see it that much any more. I myself have seen more restaurants in Singapore serving shark fins in one month than in all my 26 years living in China combined. Chinese traditional medicine, like many other traditions, is going through a really tough phase right now in China. There are constant debates going on amongst intellectuals regarding its harm over its value. As for shark fins, with negative media portrayal and celebrity endorsement, it has become a symbol of corruption and has been disapproved by most mainland Chinese. And that’s been for almost 10 years now. (In Guangdong province it is a different story. The list of animals that has been on their menu is even appalling to the rest of China.)
Yet shark products consumption is now epidemic worldwide. The situation is especially bad in Southeast Asia. Go to any Chinese styled restaurants in SEA, Singapore especially, chances are that shark fin soup is a dish proudly listed on the menu, sometimes even as a star dish.
This product, together with manta ray gills, are now mostly marketed to overseas Chinese decedents, among whom the “traditional heritage” is still alive and strong. After living in Singapore and Southeast Asia for over 2 years, I formed a habit of constantly comparing everything with China. It occurred to me that Mao forcing China into cultural revolution and the destruction of Four Olds decades ago might turn out to be a blessing in disguise after all. (Many other gems of heritage destroyed during that time is another topic for another day.)
In some western countries the shark cartilage supplement pills are also widely available from big supplement brands, from which the source being covered up but no-less questionable.
But the worst of all cases are the HK/Cantonese immigrants outside of China, US/Canada/Singapore, serving shark fin soup on wedding and banquet tables as a status symbol still to this day.
To address the issue we must find it’s real source. Instead of blindly blame “China” for shark fin problems, the video in the link below perfectly explains the problem in US. And thanks to people like Shawn Heinrichs and @sharkgirlmadison, more truth can be unveiled.
With all this being said, at the end of the day, when I look at the piles and piles of dead sharks in all these videos, I also know that we are draining the ocean of all its fish. Even if we leave the sharks alone, they might not even find as much food to sustain themselves any more. As with the prediction of many studies, by 2048 we would’ve emptied the ocean with all its abundance. We have much much bigger problems to worry about than just sharks.
But as a great man once said: All great journeys start from a single step.