"The fins are typically hacked off a live shark, leaving it to die slowly as it sinks to the bottom of the sea." Seventy-three million sharks a year are being killed this way. "As many as 90 percent of sharks in the world's open oceans have disappeared."
That info comes from an article by Patricia Leigh Brown in Saturday's edition of the New York Times that sheds light on the controversy surrounding a bill in the California Legislature that would ban the sale and possession of shark fins, including the serving of shark fin soup.
Most of the two dozen menus from Miami's Chinese restaurants that I perused showed no shark fin items. Hakkasan, Miss Yip, Tony Chan's Water Club, China Palace, South Seas... fin free. Philippe Restaurant used to sell it but stopped doing so in May 2009. Mr. Chow serves "imitation" shark fin (crab). Tropical Chinese had likewise featured fin -- and its online menu still lists the delicacy (shark fin crabmeat soup $30 for two; braised imperial shark fin $40 per person). But May Hensley, Tropical's manager, says, "We took it off the menu a long time ago." Asked why, she says, "Because people complained."
King Palace Chinese Bar-B-Q, on the other hand, still serves shark fin soup (with chicken, for $18.95).
Thing is, this soup is not even eaten because of any particularly fetching flavor, but merely as a status symbol denoting wealth and power. And on the other end, those who sell the fins make huge profits; they come in varying grades, the tail fin being most expensive and netting up to $800 for a 1.6-pound bag.
Defenders of shark finning like to use "cultural significance" as their rationale. "It's been part of our heritage for centuries," they say. OK. Let shark fin soup grace the wedding tables of pretentious fat cats in China. But these practices have no significance in American culture. Immigrants should surely be free to retain any parts of their indigenous lifestyle when they come here. But it doesn't strike me as unreasonable to make an exception to that rule when it involves the senseless taking of life that offends the values of the host country. And I find the act of horrifically killing 73 million sharks a year so people can ostentatiously flaunt their wealth extremely offensive.
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Restaurants in Hawaii have until June 30 to clear out their shark inventories or face fines of $5,000 to $15,000 for a first offense. Similar bills have been introduced in Oregon, Washington State, and now California. I don't know whether shark fin is being sold much in other Florida cities, but Miami seems to have cleaned up its act voluntarily -- or in some cases, with a little prodding from the public. I called King Palace to do a little prodding of my own, but the woman answering the phone could say only that she "thought" it was real shark fin being sold, and that the manager didn't come in often. I left my number but haven't heard back yet.
It wouldn't be a bad idea if readers would give King Palace a call and leave a message for the manager/owner, politely saying you'd be more apt to come in for dinner if shark fin soup was removed from the menu. The number is 305-949-2339. And if you know of any other local places that still sell shark fin, let us know and we'll give them a call too.