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Impact of the Consumption of Shark Fin Soup

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 1438 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The Global Citizen

Shark fin soup, is considered as one of the most controversial meals in the world since the demand for the dish has caused the near extinction of several shark species. The dish has caused some shark populations to decline by about 95%, which is just part of the global annual catch of 100 million sharks.

Shark fin soup is primarily consumed in China and Vietnam due to its history of consumption for special events like weddings and banquets. Considering the growth of the Chinese economy these recent years, the dish increased in availability and became a symbol of prestige, causing the consumption double between 1985 and 2001. When the demand increased, it lead to the global outbreak of shark hunting. However, sharks takes ages to reproduce and only reproduce a few offspring thus, overfishing and the decrease of their numbers was inevitable. The Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that approximately one third of all shark species are threatened. Often, the sharks are captured on illegal fishing vessels, where all their fins are hacked off, then they are thrown back into the water to die. Sharks play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of several food chains, as they are apex predators.

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In the past decade, a movement to end the consumption of shark fin soup has emerged to raise awareness of the animal cruelty, yet there are remarkably several misconceptions. WildAid conducted a survey which revealed that 75% of the Chinese consumers were unaware that the soup came from sharks, as it’s referred to as “fish wing soup” in Mandarin. Another 19% thought that shark fins regenerated. Very few of them were aware of the declining populations of sharks around the world. A commercial revealing the consequences of the dish was aired during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and since then, the consumption of shark fin soup has declined by an estimated 50-70% in the country. Globally, 21 countries around the world have bans or restrictions on shark finning, including China, as their government banned the dish at state banquets and their national air carrier has banned the transport of the fins. However, Vietnam has not executed any policies that restrict shark finning or its consumption. Despite all this, the demand in China and Vietnam remains high enough to cause an existential threat to sharks.


Half of the global supply of shark fin passes through Hong Kong. During Chinese New Year, family dinners include shark fin soup. Last year, the Hong Kong Shark Foundation found that 80% of 291 Chinese New Year menus in Hong Kong included this dish.

The Chinese culture dictates the consumption of shark fin. Older generations consider serving shark fin to guest during banquets as a sign of hospitality since shark fin is one of the ‘four treasures’ of Chinese seafood. It represents wealth due to its rarity and texture so the bigger the fin and the thicker the veining, the more expensive it is. Its prices can range from $90-$7000 (~$12-$930) Hong Kong dollars for 600g for small shredded pieces and $99-$591 per kilogram.

Imports have doubled since 1960, giving Hong Kong the name of the “world’s biggest shark trading hub”. More than 1 million tons of sharks are caught each year and nearly 60% of shark species are threatened, including the hammerhead and oceanic whitetip, who have declined by more than 90%. DNA studies have further revealed that one-third of the shark species from the Hong Kong retail market may be threatened with extinction. The demand in the East and Southeast Asia are causing overfishing, and currently 100% of Hong Kong’s shark fin is sold from unsustainable and/or untraceable sources.

Shark fins are used for steering, balancing, and for some, breathing. When their fins are cut off, they cannot swim, move or feed and end up sinking to the bottom of the ocean to die. For others, their fins help propel them forward to let water pass through their gills for oxygen. When the fins are cut off, they can no longer move forward and end up dying of starvation, excessive bleeding or by watching others eat them alive. As the predator at the top of the food chain, sharks balance the ecosystem.

Eating shark fin could also harm humans. Studies have shown that sharks contain large amounts of mercury, lead and arsenic. Sharks have an accumulation of methylmercury, the most toxic form of mercury. It affects the nervous system and the developing brain, vision, hearing, muscle coordination and memory. Shark fin was thought of having health benefits in ancient China, but they are not part of Chinese medicine practice and have no nutritional benefits. They’re also tasteless and don’t offer any texture when eating. The taste comes from the soup, which is a stock containing chicken and pork ribs.

The Washington Post

The consumption of shark fin soup in China has fallen by about 80% since 2011. However this is offset by the rise of consumption of the dish in other countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Macau. The consumers in mainland China have changed their behaviour towards the dish but shark fin soup remains on menus in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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Today, about 100 million sharks are killed, where 73 million of that ends up in soup. Several people have launched campaigns to raise awareness including the NBA player Yao Ming, who helped educate the chinese of the industry’s cruelty. President Xi Jinping’s signature campaign to take off the dish from official banquet menus also had a huge influence. As a result, consumption, imports and prices of shark fin plummeted in China.

Even as China is turning away from the soup, the dish is gaining popularity in other areas of Asia. In Hong Kong, WildAid reported that 5% of Hong Kong wedding guests enjoy shark fin soup but despite this, 98% of restaurants continue to serve it.

Macau is known for their giant casinos and malls. Their casino and tourism industry serves shark fin dishes in large quantities. Now a new market for shark fin soup is emerging among the Chinese Indonesians and the dish is on the menu at business functions in Vietnam.

The market is also emerging in Thailand. WildAid revealed that 57% of the people in urban Thailand had tried the soup in weddings, family dinners or business meetings, and 100 restaurants in Bangkok serve it. In 2017, WildAid found that the awareness of the cruelty of the shark fin trade was fairly low and many Thais wanted to try it since they heard that it was delicious, indicating a potential rise of demand in the future.

Sharks are also in demand in Brazil, Uruguay, Britain, Italy and Spain for their meat as consumers are unaware that they are often consuming it in seafood dishes. 3 million shark deaths per year are caused by the demand of shark liver oil, also known as squalene, which is used in cosmetics and health-supplements.


  • Denyer, Simon. “Even as China Turns Away from Shark Fin Soup, the Prestige Dish Is Gaining Popularity Elsewhere in Asia.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Feb. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/14/even-as-china-turns-away-from-shark-fin-soup-the-prestige-dish-is-gaining-popularity-elsewhere-in-asia/?utm_term=.5f5de010a47a.
  • Learn, Joshua Rapp. “Handheld DNA Tester Can Quickly Identify Illegal Shark Fins.” Handheld MinION DNA Tester Can Quickly Identify Illegal Shark Fins, 15 Apr. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/04/handheld-dna-device-finds-illegal-shark-fins/.
  • Liu, Marian. “Toxic Delicacy of Shark Fin Causes Ecosystem Chaos, and Consumers Are Pushing Back.” CNN, Cable News Network, 5 Feb. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/02/04/health/shark-fin-chinese-new-year-hong-kong-intl/index.html.
  • MailOnline, Sadie Whitelocks for. “Rob Stewart Film Exposes Illegal Shark Hunting Industry.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 18 Nov. 2018, www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-6394381/Film-exposes-illegal-shark-hunting-industry-150-MILLION-killed-year.html.
  • McCarthy, Joe. “Shark Fin Soup Is Pushing Sharks to Extinction – Yet It’s Still Served.” Global Citizen, 14 Nov. 2017, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/shark-fin-soup-pushing-sharks-extinction/.


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