Shark fin soup is a traditional delicacy in Chinese culture dating back centuries. It was first consumed in Ming Dynasty China (1368-1644), by members of the Imperial court. As living standards in China have improved over the last few decades, shark fin soup has become increasingly accessible to the middle class. It is usually served at special, formal occasions like weddings, banquets and important business functions. Serving shark fin soup is considered to be good luck, but is also an important way to express respect for your guests and to honor them. It is also eaten as a cultural sign of wealth.
Shark fin soup itself has no color, taste, or smell and requires addition of chicken, beef, or pork broth to add flavor. However, the cartilage from the shark fin provides texture to the soup.
Tens of millions of sharks are killed annually for their fins and are being fished out faster than they can reproduce which is leading to several shark populations declines globally (See FAQ #14 & #15).
In recent years, many people in China and people of Chinese descent around the globe have become increasingly aware of the ecological problems associated with shark fin soup, and have begun arguing that it should no longer be consumed. Recently, the Chinese government announced it will no longer serve shark fin soup at governmental events.
Although shark fins are primarily consumed in Asia, shark finning (and fishing for their fins), is a global phenomenon. According to a recent report, 83 countries or territories supplied more than 10.3 million kilograms (22.7 million pounds) of shark fin products to Hong Kong in 2011. The top countries exporting fins to China include Spain, Mexico, and the U.S. More details can be found by clicking HERE.
Shark finning is the act whereby sharks are caught at sea, their fins are removed and kept, while the rest of the shark’s body is discarded at sea. Shark finning occurs mostly because shark meat is rarely consumed. In contrast, trading in shark fins is extremely lucrative. A single bowl of soup can cost hundreds of dollars. In several countries, including the United States, the act of shark finning is illegal, whereby the shark body is not discarded at sea. Instead, the whole body must be brought to shore before the fins are removed and sold.