Shark Fin Soup ~ The Destructive and Wasteful “Delicacy” You Should Never Eat

Shark Fin Soup – The Destructive & Wasteful “Delicacy” You Should Never Eat
On Donald Trump’s recent trip to Asia, he was seen eating shark fin soup, a “delicacy” which is dangerous to humans, destructive to the marine environment and morbidly wasteful of the sharks. Not that Trump has been the year’s outstanding environmental steward — he sure has brought attention to animal rights and environmental issues like this one. The practice dates back to China’s Ming Dynasty. The dish was coveted by emperors for its rarity and elaborate preparation. The popularity of shark fin soup rose in the early 19th century as affluence and standards of living began to improve, mirroring the increased demand for animal products across the board. In general, as animal-flesh becomes more available, the destruction of natural habitat and careless treatment of animals is amplified.

Although shark finning was banned in the United States in 2000, the Trump Taj Mahal got away with serving it, through loopholes, in Atlantic City. In 2013, a conservationist confronted Trump on Twitter about serving shark fin soup. His response was: “You like sharks? Sorry folks, I’m just not a fan of sharks – and don’t worry, they will be around long after we are gone.”

For every human killed by a shark, humans kill approximately two million sharks – and possibly even more. It is a conservative estimate to say 100 million per year are killed by humans, and could be as high as 273 million killed annually. The worst part of shark fin soup is the way the sharks are killed. Their fins are sliced off, and the rest of the body is thrown back into the ocean, to sink and suffocate to death if their unusable carcasses don’t become prey for other animals first.

Why would they do this? I wondered if it is because shark meat is inedible. Although people have been known to eat shark, it’s not often — and for good reason: shark meat is especially harmful to the human body. Predatory fish are loaded with mercury and toxins, and only the fins have been prized for human consumption, although they are just cartilage which provides no nutritional value.

But, that’s not the main reason they are killed so mercilessly and wastefully. The real reason? Profitability. It would take up too much space to transport the entire bodies back to shore, requiring very large vessels and rendering the entire project unprofitable since only the shark fins are considered valuable ($50-$50,000 per fin depending on species). Legislation battling the issue has focused on making this practice illegal and it is in many countries including the U.S., where shark fins can’t be imported unless they are still attached to the body.

Why save the sharks? Scientific American terms sharks as apex predators, meaning they indirectly affect the abundance of species further down the food web by controlling density and behavior of their prey and without them, the food chain collapses. The disappearance of sharks leads to toxic algae blooms, since sharks eat mid-level predators. Without sharks, these mid-level predator fish thrive and eat all the herbaceous fish, and algae grows freely. Algae can suffocate the water and cause massive die-offs. Algae blooms also contaminate our water supply and make us sick. So even indirectly, consuming shark meat is dangerous for people. Also, sharks bring in more tourism money alive than dead in many countries, for example Belize makes a $3.7 million profit during its 6-week whale-shark viewing season.

So….why does this continue?
Besides profit for the fishers, in China and Japan, shark flesh has a long history of supposed medicinal benefits. Though these benefits have been disproven by modern science, the cultural attachment remains and people still eat it. In Eastern Africa, Iceland and Greenland, shark is a staple food, eaten out of necessity in the face of strained resources. In affluent regions, shark meat is added to the menus of gourmet restaurants by chefs to exhibit their culinary skills. In all cases, shark meat is consumed because people do not understand how dangerous it is for their health.

Shark flesh contains:
Urea: A natural waste product from protein consumption that is processed through the kidneys, especially prevalent in sharks because they are carnivorous. It smells strongly of ammonia which can be covered up with seasoning, but the urea cannot be removed from the flesh. Too much urea in the human body can cause severe kidney damage and lead to kidney failure.
Arsenic: The amount of arsenic found in Sandbar, Dusky, Great White, Whale, Dwarf Pygmy, and Hammerhead Sharks are well beyond acceptable consumption standards.  These species are sold in international markets but should be avoided at all costs.
Lead: Eating shark meat, especially the larger and older sharks which are more commonly consumed, can cause lead poisoning which varies from aches and pains to seizures, comas and death.
Mercury: Very dangerous in any amount, sharks contain the second highest amount of mercury of all fish and causes headaches, tremors and cognitive dysfunction.

So how in the world is shark considered a medicinal supplement?
There is nothing to support this argument! According to Seastewards.org:

“Shark fin soup has been associated with a variety of benefits from increased virility to longer life. However, the fin is purely cartilage, the same compound in human, cow and other vertebrates. Cartilage has no nutritional value. Any benefit would come from the broth and other ingredients added.”

In fact, due to high levels of mercury overconsumption of shark fin soup can cause sterility in men. Because meat is acidic, claims that eating shark fin soup can cure cancer are invalid as cancer thrives in an acidic environment and only alkaline foods are supportive of cancer reduction.

On January 4th, 2011, President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, a mandate that ensures that the traditional practice of finning does not take place in the U.S. We must keep awareness of this issue alive with our new presidency if we are to practice compassion and protect our marine environments.

Written by:  Sara Hoffman, Yogi Vegan, you can find her @wellnesswithsara.com 

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