Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Chinese culture, and has been part of that culture dating back to Ming Dynasty China. Treasured for its taste and and rarity, the dish has seen a sharp rise in popularity as living conditions both in China and where Chinese immigrants have settled have improved.
But, as mentioned above, the problem isn’t in the consumption of the soup, but rather in what sharks are being harvested and the manner in which this is being done. Despite regulations created specifically to control these problems, sharks are often caught, have their fins cut off, and are dumped back in the ocean to die. That’s not to say that all shark harvesters employ these methods as some fisheries, including Canada’s spiny dogfish shark fishery, are well-maintained and do abide by the rules laid out for them. But without DNA testing, it is impossible to determine which species of shark the fins came from.
The movement to create a province-wide ban on the dish is again not a new one, but it does seem to be creating a divide amongst the citizens. Richmond Conservative MP Alice Wong recently made a public spectacle out of enjoying a bowl of the soup at a local restaurant, making her stance on the issue quite clear, and that in itself has created a bit of a stir. Wong allegedly invited only Asian media to the “event”, leaving the rest of us to find out about what was going on after the fact.
Wong has since come out to defend her decision to eat the soup, stating that a ban on shark fin products was a federal responsibility, not one for the municipalities to consider. She further said that Canada’s regulations surrounding the import of shark fins are strong enough to keep illegally harvested products off the market here. But then, in a staggering show of what some may consider ignorance, both Wong and the owner of the restaurant admitted that they had no way of telling whether the fin used in her soup was from an endangered species, or if it had been harvested illegally and/or unethically.
That’s right. First she says that Canada’s regulations are enough to keep illegal goods from making it to our restaurants, then backtracks by stating that she is not sure where the fin in her soup came from. That doesn’t exactly sound like confidence to me.
Back to a point I made earlier however, by inviting only Asian media to this “event”, Wong effectively alienated a large portion of her constituency by catering to one specific demographic. As an elected official and public servant, is it not her duty to represent EVERYBODY in her area? Is she not supposed to remain transparent in terms of her duty to the public, and did she not violate that transparency by inviting ONLY Asian media?
The municipalities of Port Moody, North Vancouver and Coquitlam have already imposed a ban on the sale of shark fin products, and the Vancouver city council is working with Richmond and Burnaby to impose similar bans in those municipalities. Despite this, Wong maintains that imposing such bans is a responsibility of the federal government, not the municipal. The whole point of municipal government is to deal with local issues, and clearly this shark fin soup debate has become a local issue, evidenced by the already existing bans in BC cities. If the ban on shark fin products was to become a nation-wide ban, then it would become a federal responsibility. Right now, it’s a municipal issue.
If as a private citizen Alice Wong wishes to consume shark fin soup, that is her right. But by making a public spectacle out of it all as a representative of her community, she has crossed a line, especially by inviting only media that may be sympathetic to what she was doing.
Some are calling the proposed bans “culturally insensitive”, but I for one find that label offensive. The point of these proposed bans is not to be insensitive to the Chinese community. The point of these proposed bans is not to disrespect their culture and history. The point IS however to prevent the extinction of endangered species and to cut down on the illegal harvesting of the product. In an ideal world, everyone would abide by the laws and regulations, and this debate wouldn’t be necessary as all the imported shark fins would have been harvested ethically and legally. But because we don’t live in that fantasy land, perhaps drastic measures need to be taken. Shark fin soup may be a part of Chinese culture, but if the opinion of Canadian citizens is that it needs to be banned, that needs to be respected. Call me “culturally insensitive”, but if the city wants to ban the sale of shark fin products and they have the proper amount of public support, then perhaps it’s time for change.