Shark Fin Soup In US Restaurants Contain Threatened Species
August 9, 2012

Shark Fin Soup In US Restaurants Contain Threatened Species

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

The plight of the shark has been a hot topic for conservationists as of late, most appalled by the continuing presence of shark hunting that ends up with many threatened species being mutilated only for their precious fins for use in the popular Chinese delicacy shark fin soup.

Shark fin soup has been a popular Chinese dish for decades, but new evidence is surfacing that threatened sharks are turning up in shark fin soup in many US restaurants across the country. Researchers from Stony Brook University´s Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in New York analyzed data, with the help of Pritzker Laboratory in Chicago, from samples taken from 14 cities and have come up with startling results.

What they found is shocking: 33 different species of sharks turned up in the collected samples.

“US consumers of shark fin soup cannot be certain of what's in their soup,” said Demian Chapman, who co-led the DNA testing, in a statement Wednesday. “They could be eating a species that is in serious trouble.”

Among the species discovered were scalloped hammerhead sharks, which are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Other finds include smooth hammerheads and spiny dogfish, both listed as vulnerable to extinction; near-threatened species of bull and copper sharks were also on the menu.

“This is further proof that shark fin soup here in the United States, not just in Asia, is contributing to the global decline in sharks,” said Liz Karan, of the Pew Environment Group, the foundation that supported the study. “Sharks must be protected from overfishing, and any international trade in these vulnerable and endangered species must be tightly regulated.”

The study, the first to gauge the number of species of shark being used in American cuisine, was aided by the unlikely support of dozens of shark-attack survivors, led by Debbie Salamone, a shark-attack survivor herself.

Salamone, working for the Orlando Sentinel in 2004, was swimming off the coast of Cape Canaveral when she was bitten on the foot by a shark. The bite severed her Achilles tendon and it took her weeks to recover and months to fully heal. In the years since the attack she has rallied to become one of the shark´s biggest advocates.

“It is the ultimate story of irony and forgiveness,” she says. “After I got attacked, I was really not a big fan of sharks. In fact, I was plotting my revenge and planning to eat shark steaks.”

But after a “crisis of conscience,” she said she had realized she couldn´t blame a shark for being a shark. So instead of going against them, she decide to fight for them.

She and her fellow survivors joined Pew and Stony Brook in their first large-scale sampling of shark fin soup. She said the fact that so many restaurants here in the US were serving up shark fin soup was not as shocking as the fact that many do not know they could be eating endangered animals.

The study reveals that “we definitely need some better rules about shark fishing around the world,” Salamone said.

With as many as 30 percent of all shark species being threatened or nearly threatened with extinction, the numbers of sharks (73 million) being finned or killed to make soup is very disconcerting. While shark fin soup isn´t illegal in the US, Karan said: “we are letting people know to at least think twice about it.”

People should know what they are getting when they order shark fin soup. While some people may be eating an endangered hammerhead, some are not even eating what they are paying for. In one sample, for example, the researchers found no shark at all, proving that those who indulge in the delicacy have no clue what is in their $100 bowl of soup.

In an encouraging attempt to bring attention to the plight of the shark, China last month called for the ban of shark fin soup in all its official state banquets. Closer to home, efforts are underway to undermine the shark fin trade. In Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington, laws are now in place banning the importation and sale of shark fins. And several ocean regions are closed to shark fishing, including the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, Palau, Tokelau and the Marshall Islands.

The study, released this week, is suspiciously timed during the run up to Shark Week, a popular programming schedule on the Discovery Channel, which kicks off August 12. Pew wants people to understand that sharks are being slaughtered at an unsustainable rate.

“There is a little bit of a Jaws factor,” Karan says. “We get sidetracked by how ferocious they are as a predator and don´t see them for the role they play for the environment.”

“If we can stick up for sharks, that turns a lot of heads. We all wanted to turn something really bad into something with a positive impact, then our suffering wasn´t for nothing,” added Salamone.

Samples of soup for the study were collected in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC.