S.O.S. Save Our Sharks

In 1975, the blockbuster thriller Jaws was released, capitalizing on America’s fear of sharks, and leading to a significant decline in beach attendance.   But which animal poses more of a risk to the other? Human or shark?   The data proves it’s not even close.   While fewer than 20 people are killed each year by sharks, fishing activity kills between 20 and 100 million sharks annually.

In an effort to protect the sharks, the California Legislature introduced a bill banning the sale and possession of shark fins. The bill seeks to curb the brutal practice of finning sharks.  Typically, the fin is chopped off a live shark, which, rendered unable to swim, dies slowly as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean.  Despite the noble intentions of the bill, it has been met with animosity by many of California’s Chinese Americans who have long been serving shark’s fin soup and do not want an ancient culinary tradition essentially wiped out by this bill.

Respect for an ethnic group’s heritage is important but it shouldn’t trump the protection of endangered wildlife.  As the shark population dwindles, not only are shark species facing extinction, the entire marine ecosystem is at risk.

In certain cases, when tradition and animal rights conflict, tradition has the winning argument.  In Europe and Latin America, bullfighting persists, over objections from animal rights advocates.  In the United States, the Supreme Court upheld the right of practicioners of Santeria to sacrifice animals as part of religious rituals.  In the case of the shark fin however, there is no First Amendment protection for the Chinese American community to claim, and the danger to the shark population is so great that even individuals raised on shark’s fin soup have come out in favor of the ban.

The tradition of shark’s fin soup doesn’t have to come to an end.  It simply needs to adapt to an environmentally-conscious world.   The vegetarian version of the soup may not taste exactly like the classic recipe, but it can preserve most elements of the soup while protecting the animal the tradition arose from.  The bill may seem like an attack on California’s Chinese American community but it is really a necessary act to save an animal so tied to their culture.  If the shark is to survive for future generations, this bill is a huge step in that direction

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