Friday, November 25, 2011

Tilapia Fin—Shark Fin?

The number is dropping fast. We kill 100 million sharks annually for the lucrative Chinese market; that’s 3 sharks getting killed every second. You don’t need to be a Nobel Laureate to realize the unsustainable nature of this massacre.

Unlike most bony fish, sharks reproduce and grow relatively slowly. Sharks have relatively few (zero to around 100) offspring each year, and the mother invests much energy in each to increase the chance that it will survive. Some female sharks put so much energy into a litter that they must take two years to recover their strength before breeding again. 
Several countries have banned the killing of sharks, but still the hunt continues. The threat of jail sentence becomes exiguous in the face of profit. Is there anything, anything at all that we can do to help save the species that outlived the dinosaurs?

Wang Yi-feng, general manager of the Kouhu Fisheries Cooperative in Taiwan thinks there’s an alternative: he is selling farmed tilapia fins as a substitute for shark fins.

The tail fins of Taiwan tilapia are a perfect stand-in for shark fins because they have the same appearance and texture- Wang Yi-feng.

Both types of fin are just cartilage, tasteless and similar in shape. His company shreds the Tilapia fins and ships a ton of fins per month to restaurants in Taiwan for $120 per kilogram, about a quarter the price of shark fins. He claims that unlike sharks, farmed tilapias are sustainable, and this “guarantees stable supplies of the delicacy, which could prevent sharks from being wiped out.”
Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid approves the substitution.

“I’m all for it,” he says, “Tilapia is a perfectly good, sustainable and healthier substiture.”

The idea, however, doesn’t really help to curb the demand for shark fin. “It’s all about privilege and expense,” he continues.
The demand for the soup, which symbolizes wealth, has been rising along with prospering Chinese economy. Now that Tilapia fins are available, people would definitely pay higher price to get shark fins, and thus exacerbate the problem further.
To address the problem, the substitute for shark fin should be of the same status, for example an expensive bottle of wine. This would fulfil the Chinese’s insatiable desire to display wealth and status.   

“It’s really more about perception, the notion of hosts having spent a lot of money on their guests.” Knight says.

Sharks have walked thus far in the history of our planet, only to be ruthlessly eliminated by a younger species. We can do something to stop all this. Regardless of the nature of the idea, let’s hope that all the ideas could help fight for the survival of sharks.


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