Soup or Swim? Elsie’s Shark Tale

Created on Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Do you like shark fin soup? The best answer I could come up with was, “I did like the soup, but I don’t remember particularly liking the fins.” As a Chinese descendant who grew up with my mother’s homemade shark fin soup, I have convinced my family to stop buying shark fins since 1998. Understanding how destructive shark finning operations are to the health of ocean ecosystem, I could not bear the thought of my own family supporting such a practice; the cultural importance of shark fin soup seemed so petty. 

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to swim with over a dozen baby blacktip reef sharks in two foot deep water in the north lagoon of Batbitiem island, part of the no-take-zone in South Misool of Raja Ampat, Indonesia. At the same beach, there used to be shark finning camps before the area was protected in 2005. While these baby sharks have returned to a safe nursery ground inside the reserve, shark finning is still is ongoing outside. 

baby blacktip reef sharks

The day after my first swim with the baby sharks, the rangers encountered a boat full of shark fins right outside the boundary line of the no-take-zone. Talking to the local fishermen who had partaken in shark finning, I learned that they did not prefer shark finning over any other type of fishing, but that the demand for fins is high. For a small monetary reward to the fishermen, the fins are usually sold to supply a market thousands of miles away where they can fetch up to over $300/lb.

Closer to home, on the California coast, Scott Cassell has just completed a remarkable 30-mile dive transect from Catalina Island to San Pedro in search of sharks. During this 10 hour journey underwater, not a single shark was seen. Less than 20 years ago, he would see 40 to 100 sharks in a single dive.

However, there’s still hope! Californians are doing their final push, urging governor Jerry Brown to sign and pass AB 376 bill that will ban shark fin trade in the state. Thanks to Shark Savers’ guidance, I had an easy time sending in my letter of support. It is not too late, you too can write or call the governor.

And the next time someone asks me whether or not I like shark fin soup, I have a better answer, “I would rather taste the happiness of my Chinese descendants seeing live sharks in the water.” A bit cheesy perhaps, but it’s honest.