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Has China lost its taste for shark fin?

July 02, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Shark fin for sale at a Monterey Park store before California passed a ban on the delicacy.
Shark fin for sale at a Monterey Park store before California passed a ban… (Los Angeles Times )

California passed its ban on shark fins last year despite the protests that shark-fin soup was a traditional delicacy among people of Chinese descent. On Sunday, Illinois joined a growing number of states and nations by banning shark fin.

And now, it seems, the government of China no longer considers tradition to be an acceptable excuse for killing tens of millions of fish each year, many of which are from endangered species. 

Shark finning is a particularly wasteful and cruel practice: after the fins are cut off the shark, the animal is thrown back into the water to die slowly. Shark fins sell for a bundle, but shark meat is much less valuable; it's not worth it for finning operations to haul the entire fish back to land. Though the serving of  shark-fin soup has a long history, it only became an environmental concern in recent years when large numbers of newly wealthy people of Chinese ancestry could afford to honor their guests with the delicacy.

According to Global Times and the Humane Society of the United States, the Government Offices of the State Council in China announced that it would move over the next two to three years to remove shark fins from the menus of official functions, and to prod other levels of government in the same direction. Of course, that doesn't affect private dinners, but now that the Chinese government has officially expressed concern about the taking of shark fins and taken steps not to serve it as food, it's more likely that others will be following suit over time.

Another complaint against California's ban was that it was meaningless because so much more shark-fin consumption occurs within China. That would have made Illlinois' move even less meaningful. But symbolic leadership can be very important -- and might have been this time.

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