Sharkfin Response

Here's a response to Dr. Giam from Bernard Harrison, former CEO of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (which runs the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Birdpark and the Night Safari), which was published only in the online edition of the Straits Times:

I READ the article by Dr Giam Choo Hoo, 'Shark's fin soup - eat without
guilt' (ST, Dec 1), with interest and concern. Dr Giam's point is that
foreign NGOs have been trying to dissuade us Chinese from eating one of our
traditional dishes. He feels we should not consider eating shark's fin soup
a shameful culture.

Dr Giam also states that only three sharks out of over 400 species are
listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of
Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites)'s Appendix 2, thus implying that sharks are not

It is well known within conservation circles that Cites is not a
particularly good barometer of the level of endangerment of a species. For
instance, its Appendix 1 lists 228 species of mammals and only nine species
of fish. Rather than a reflection of endangerment, it shows ignorance of
what is going on in the oceans, mangroves and fresh-water bodies.

A more useful basis of assessment is the World Conservation Union, which in
2004 assessed a total of 262 sharks and related species. Of these, 56 were
classified as globally threatened, that is, critically endangered,
endangered or vulnerable. A further 26 were assessed as threatened on a
regional basis.

When the term 'critically endangered' is used, one of several criteria
involved in the classification is that the estimated population size is
fewer than 250 mature individuals. Similarly, 'endangered' is used when the
population size is estimated to be fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. By
2017, 20 species of sharks could become extinct.

More than 100 million sharks are taken from the seas each year. For a group
that has been around for the past 400 million years, sharks cannot survive
this onslaught because most large sharks reach sexual maturity only at seven
years, and then give birth to only a few pups each year.

Research on the potential effects of the disappearance of sharks from
selected ecosystems suggests that the consequences could be devastating for
commercially and nutritionally important fishes. In the Hawaiian Reefs
model, the removal of tiger sharks resulted in a crash in populations of
tuna and jacks, due to a marked increase in seabirds, the shark's primary

In Chinese banquets, over 40 per cent of the meal cost comes from shark's
fin soup. The challenge is to find restaurateurs who would take on the
responsibility of saving sharks by sourcing an alternative dish which still
allows them to sustain banquet profits.

With China's 1.2 billion people gaining in affluence and holding to the
tradition of shark's fin soup at celebrations, I don't give the 453
remaining species of sharks much of a chance.

Bernard Harrison

Note: My own two cents on this issue is that Dr. Giam is hoping to incite anger by accusing western activists of trying to shame Chinese people. Unfortunately, he's ignoring the fact that most activists per se in Asia are Asians.

As Mr. Harrison demonstrates in his letter, Dr Giam is cherry-picking statistics that provide only a partial representation of the views and consensus of the scientific and conservation communities on this issue. It's a crude, if effective, tactic to mislead people who are not particularly well informed about the issue, and more insidiously, it's intended to stir-up negative emotion to cloud the substance of the discussion.

In my own travels and via the experience of many friends who live in fishing hot spots around the world, there is no doubt that many boats target only shark fins. Shark fins are worth a lot more per unit weight than other fish, and shark fins are a lot less trouble to transport than whole fish.

So, it's not "shame" that's the issue. It's "responsibility".