On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Tasteless way to save the shark

Their worry is that sharks will disappear, just like the
dinosaurs, although I am not sure whether any caveman tried eating dinosaur

The campaign targets school children who have been handed pledge cards to say
“no'' to shark's fin soup.

At fashionable cafes where teenagers spend more money on coffee than shark's
fin soup, a music video called Nobody Loves You has been screened to dispel the
myth that sharks are fearsome man-eaters.

Hong Kong actor Tong Leung has become the colony's campaign spokesman.

The lobbyists received another boost when Taiwanese President Chen Shui Bian's
daughter, Chen Hsing Yu, wanted the soup off the menu at her engagement

Central to the emotionally-charged campaign are video shots of the finning and
dumping of hapless finless sharks back into the sea.

The cruelty angle is being used to mobilise public opinion against the killing
of sharks. There are endless statistics to back their case.

The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
(CITES) has also joined in the fray.

At the recent meeting of CITES in Kenya, Asean and many developing nations
argued that sharks were not endangered but Britain, the United States and
Australia decided three of the over-400 shark species were endangered.

The developing nations argued that sharks were by-catch, which meant most of
the shark fins sold in shops were from small fishermen.

But the debate over the Chinese delicacy has become more complicated as
cultural values surface.

Shark's fin soup has been a gourmet's delight in China since the Han dynasty,
over 2,200 years ago. The West considers the consumption of shark fins a
wasteful delight of the Chinese.

To add salt to injury, these Western groups are telling us to replace shark
fins with ginseng chicken in fatt tiau cheong (Buddha Jumps Over the Wall).

Others have even suggested leaving out abalone as well, saying it is going to
become endangered too.

Those who think the campaign is no more than just cultural imperialism against
the Chinese have questioned why these groups are not making the same efforts to
campaign against bull-fighting and fox-hunting.

The supporters of shark's fin soup point out that man-eating sharks were
unintentional by-catch of commercial fleets using long lines of hooks to catch
tuna and salmon, which are mostly for the Western market.

Sharks, they said, do not travel in shoals and thus cannot be depleted in the
short to medium term.

By-catch sharks were also dead when hauled up, thus the emotions attached to
finning were unjustified.

Few people in the West, they said, made a fuss when 1,000 porpoises drowned in
British nets each year in the North Sea and 7,000 more in Danish nets. Or when 90,000
seals and pups were shot or clubbed to death for their fur in the North

With over 13 water species becoming extinct in North America since 1900, the
traditionalists are asking why these Western groups are making so much fuss
over a soup for a Chinese wedding.

Describing it as “selective amnesia,'' these Chinese traditionalists want the
environmentalists to put their house in order first.

Call it xenophobia or whatever, but there is this nagging suspicion, even if
unjustified, that the campaign is part of the agenda against growing Chinese

First, Britain blames a piece of meat in London's Chinatown for the Mad Cow
disease. Then the attacks against soya sauce makers – supported by the western
corn oil manufacturers – and then the alleged discovery of mercury substance in
shark fins from Thailand.

All these may be coincidences but China-bashing has become a Western
preoccupation these days.

The West has made no pretence that it is worried about China's growing economic
and political strength and anything remotely Chinese.

Issues such as the Dalai Lama, Falun Gong and China's bid to host the Olympics
do not affect me directly. But, like many other Malaysians, I cannot stomach
the fight against shark's fin soup.

The whole debate has been over-blown by idealistic gwei lo groups.

We have suffered enough having to eat starchy “shark's fin soup'' in which not
a single shred of fin can be found.

The debate will definitely continue over whether a living shark is more
dangerous than a dead shark whose fins make delicious soup.

It may be environmentally incorrect to enjoy shark's fin soup but the campaign
isn't likely to change local tastebuds.