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Shark fin soup

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Title: Shark fin soup  
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Shark fin soup

Shark fin soup
Alternative names Shark's fin soup
Type Soup
Place of origin China
Main ingredients Shark fins, broth
Cookbook: Shark fin soup 
Shark fin soup
Traditional Chinese 魚翅
Simplified Chinese 鱼翅
Cantonese Jyutping jyu4 ci3
Hanyu Pinyin yú chì
Literal meaning Fish fin

Shark fin soup (or shark's fin soup) is a traditional soup or stewed item of Chinese cuisine served at special occasions such as weddings and banquets, or as a luxury item in Chinese culture.[1] The shark fins provide texture, while the taste comes from the other soup ingredients.[1] The soup originated centuries ago during the Ming Dynasty. Demand for the soup has increased as income levels of Chinese communities worldwide have risen. International concerns over the sustainability and welfare of sharks have impacted consumption and availability of the soup.


  • History 1
  • Preparation 2
  • Taste 3
  • Health impact 4
  • Market 5
    • Demand 5.1
  • Environmental concerns 6
  • Campaigns 7
  • Alternatives 8
    • Shark fin alternatives 8.1
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


Shark fin soup dates back to Ming Dynasty China[2] and is considered by Chinese as one of the eight treasured foods from the sea.[3] The popularity of shark fin soup rose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as standards of living began to improve.[1] The delicacy was coveted by everyone from commoners to the emperors because it was rare and delicious only after a complicated and elaborate preparation.[4][5] The Qing Dynasty manual of cuisine, the Suiyuan shidan, indicated that the shark fin was eaten as soup, stew, and even as a stir-fry but in all cases the successfully prepared fin was enjoyed for its smooth and supple texture.[6]

Holding both culinary and symbolic significance, the dish is popular at occasions such as weddings, banquets, and important business deals.[4][7][8] It symbolizes wealth, power, prestige, and honor.[7][8] This staple of gourmet Chinese cuisine is believed to be a show of respect, honor, and appreciation to the guests.[4][9]


Genuine shark fin soup or stew is made with shark fins obtained from any of a variety of shark species. Raw shark fins are processed by first removing the skin and denticles, then trimming them to shape and bleaching to a more desirable colour.[10]

There are two types of the dried form, cooked/skinned (shredded) and raw/unskinned which requires more preparation.[11] Both need to be softened before they can be used to prepare soup.

Sharks' fins are sold in many forms: dried, cooked, wet and frozen. Canned ready-to-eat shark fin soup is also available in Asian markets.[10]

In 2011, California banned the sale of shark fins.[12]


In shark fin soup, the fins themselves are virtually tasteless. The taste comes from the soup, while the fins are valued for their texture. It has a "chewy, sinewy, stringy" texture.[1] Krista Mahr of TIME called it "somewhere between chewy and crunchy."[13] Dave Lieberman of OC Weekly wrote that it is a "snappy, gelatinous texture". Most westerners' reaction to eating shark fin for the first time is that it has almost no taste. However, the fin is used to provide the soup's unique texture rather than to add any flavor.[14]

Health impact

Shark fins and other shark parts for sale in a Chinese pharmacy in Yokohama, Japan

Shark fins were believed in Chinese culture to have properties boosting sexual potency, enhancing skin quality, increasing qi or energy, preventing heart disease, and lowering cholesterol.[9] In traditional Chinese medicine, shark fins were believed to help in areas of rejuvenation, appetite enhancement, and blood nourishment and to be beneficial to vital energy, kidneys, lungs, bones, and many other parts of the body.[10] There is no scientific evidence that shark fins can be used to treat any medical condition.[10]

Vitamin content of typical shark fin soup is much less than that of typical vegetable soup, containing almost no vitamin A. However, it contains slightly more iron, zinc, riboflavin, and phosphorus than normal vegetable soup.[15][16]

There are claims that shark fins prevent cancer;[17][18] however, there is no scientific evidence, and one study found shark cartilage to be of no value in cancer treatment.[19]

sterility in men.[20] It is known that larger fish such as shark, tuna, and swordfish contain high levels of the element mercury and methylmercury salts [21] For soon-to-be-pregnant women, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children, The United States Food and Drug administration has advised them to avoid consumption of fish high in mercury.[22][23]


Sharks' fin on the menu of a Chinese restaurant in Singapore.
Restaurant sign-board, Chénghuángmiào, Shanghai, China. Photo taken in 2009.


Shark fin soup is a popular delicacy in China, and is eaten in Chinese restaurants around the world.[24][25] Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, said in 2001 that the shark fin trade more than doubled in the prior 15 years.[2]

A survey carried out in China in 2006 by WildAid and the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association found that 35% of participants said they had consumed shark fin soup in the last year,[24] while 83% of participants in an online survey conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature said that they had consumed shark fin soup at some time.[26]

In Hong Kong restaurants, where the market has traditionally been strong, demand from Hong Kong natives had reportedly dropped in 2006, but this was more than balanced by an increase in demand from the Chinese mainland,[27] as the economic growth of China has put this expensive delicacy within the reach of a growing middle class.[28]

Based on information gathered from the Hong Kong trade in fins, the market was estimated in 2004 to be growing by 5% a year.[29] Consumption of shark fin soup has risen dramatically with the middle class becoming more affluent, as Chinese communities around the world enjoy increasing income levels.[1][2][30] The high price of the soup means it is often used as a way to impress guests or at celebrations;[27] 58 percent of those questioned in the WWF survey said they ate the soup at a celebration or gathering.[26]

By late 2013, however, a report in The Washington Post indicated that shark fin soup was no longer seen as fashionable in China. The movement against shark fin soup began in 2006, when WildAid enlisted Chinese basketball star Yao Ming as the front person for a public relations campaign against the dish. The campaign was taken up by a coalition of Chinese businessmen, celebrities, and students, and began bearing fruit in 2012, when China passed a ban on shark fin imports.[31] In January 2013, China Daily reported that officials in Zhejiang province found that many shark fin soup restaurants were selling artificial shark fins, and that one-third of the samples that the officials had obtained contained dangerous amounts of cadmium and methylmercury.[32] Within two months of the China Daily report, China ordered officials throughout the country to stop serving dishes made from protected wildlife at official banquets, and in September, the Hong Kong government issued a similar order.[31] According to WildAid, consumption of shark fin soup in China has dropped by 50 to 70 percent since 2011. China's commerce ministry indicated that consumption of shark fin soup during the 2013 Spring Break holiday had decreased by 70 percent from 2012, and Hong Kong industry groups reported that shark fin imports were down by 20 to 30 percent from 2012.[31] Also, anecdotal evidence points to a worldwide drop in shark fin prices and a move away from shark fishing in parts of Africa.[31]

Environmental concerns

Finned sharks

Shark fins used in the soup are the cartilaginous dorsal, pectoral and caudal fins.

Fins are sometimes harvested by a process known as shark finning. The person harvesting the fins often leaves the shark to die in the ocean after having cut the fins off. This poses a major threat to the world's shark populations.[33]

Some groups, such as Fins Attached, Shark Savers, IUCN, Shark Angels, Shark Whisperer and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, discourage the consumption of the soup due to concerns with the world’s shark population and how inhumanely sharks are finned alive and tossed back into the ocean, unable to swim, hunt or survive. The prevalence of shark finning and the sustainability of sharks are both debated.[34][35]Some feel banning the dish is offensive[36][37] Major hotel operators such as The Peninsula Hotels and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts stopped serving shark fin soup in the interest of offering sustainable seafood.[38][39] The three largest supermarket chains in Singapore—Cold Storage, NTUC FairPrice and Carrefour—have stopped selling shark fins while also citing sustainability concerns.[40] Hong Kong Disneyland dropped the soup from its menu after it could not find a sustainable source.[41] The University of Hong Kong banned serving shark fin soup, hoping "to give a lead which others in Hong Kong will follow".[42]

Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Ministry banned shark fin soup from official functions in a commitment to the Malaysian Nature Society to conserve the shark species.[43] In the United States, Hawaii,[44] Washington,[45] Oregon,[46][47] California,[48] Guam,[49] and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands have banned the sale and possession of shark fins, effectively eliminating the availability of the soup.[50] Illinois has become the fifth state to implement a ban on shark fin trade, the first non-Pacific state. In the past, Illinois has been a large importer of shark fins.[51] In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, closing loopholes used to obtain shark fins.[52] In October 2011, California governor Jerry Brown, citing the cruelty of finning and potential threats to the environment and commercial fishing, signed Assembly Bill 376, banning the possession and sale of detached shark fins.[48][53] Opponents charged the ban was discriminatory against Chinese, the main consumers of the shark fin soup, when federal laws already banned the practice of finning. Whole sharks would still be legally fished, but the fins could no longer be sold.[48] A lawsuit has been filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of California by Chinese American groups seeking to overturn the ban.[54] In Canada, the Vancouver city council has decided to work towards creating some sort of ban to preserve the shark species.[55] Toronto, Canada’s largest city, joined other municipalities like Brantford and Mississauga in adopting a shark fin ban on 13 October 2011.[56] Calgary, Alberta, joined other Canadian cities in banning shark fin soup on 16 July 2012 .[57] On 2 July 2012, China State Council of the People's Republic of China declared that sharks fin soup can no longer be served at official banquets. This ban may take up to three years to take effect because it is such a social dish in Chinese culture.[58]

On 1 December 2012, Ontario Superior Court Judge James Spence ruled that Toronto's ban was not valid. Members of Toronto’s Chinese business community had also challenged the ban. Judge Spence had said the city does not have the power to enforce the ban. Toronto's mayor Rob Ford in September 2012 believed the ban was not the cities' responsibility and so did not support it at that time.[59]

On 27 March 2013, a private members bill to ban shark fin imports into Canada failed in the House of Commons. Shark finning was already illegal in Canadian waters, but there was no law to stop importing into Canada.[60]

On May 8, 2013 Calgary’s City Council decided to wait until December 2013 and recommended leaning away from a total ban and looking for ethical sources of shark products. Alderman John Mar said there will be more time to discuss and engage and to look for other options. The new wording in the bylaw was meant to ban the sale, distribution, and trade of shark fins, but not ban the possession and consumption. Vancouver councilor Kerry Jang was at Calgary’s council meeting and said that it was not a cultural thing, and that even China and the Chinese government decided to phase out all shark fins from state banquets. He also mentioned that the wordings of the bylaws in Calgary and Toronto, which face legal problems with municipal jurisdiction, are trying to ban possession and consumption, but that is hard to enforce and regulate.[61]

On May 27, 2013, against the wishes of the Shark Fin Free Calgary organization, Calgary City Council overturned the ban. There were protests against the ban from Calgary’s Chinese community, and Calgary's city task force recommended against the ban. According to the article in The Calgary Herald, Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi never wanted a full ban, even though he had voted for the ban in the previous year.[62]


The marine conservation organization Bite-Back has campaigned against the sale of shark fin soup in Britain. On the back of its campaigning, the London-based Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant Hakkasan agreed to stop selling the controversial soup,[63] while other high-profile names such as Gordon Ramsay, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and Charles Clover, author of The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat, have lent their support to the charity's 'Hacked Off' campaign.[64]


Shark fin alternatives

Substitutes for shark fin exist, commonly known as "mock shark's fin". Mock shark's fin was first used in Hong Kong during the 1970s. From the 1990s onward, mock shark’s fin became popular in many restaurants throughout China. Products can be made from various ingredients, primarily gelatin or the Sharkfin melon. An alternative uses soy. A Japanese company uses pork gelatin. A popular, low-cost 'fake shark fin soup' (碗仔翅) made using vermicelli is widely available in Asia.[65][66] They can also be made from cellophane noodles or fensi. Other varieties included chicken breast, Jinhua ham, and pig's skin. Today, mock shark's fin can also be purchased in preserved form from local supermarkets and convenience stores.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Keith Bradsher, Disneyland in China Offers a Soup and Lands in a Stew, 17 June 2005 The New York Times
  2. ^ a b c Bird, Maryann (26 February 2001). "Man Bites Shark".  
  3. ^ Vannuccini, S. (1999). "Shark utilization, marketing and trade". FAO Fisheries Technical Paper (Rome: FAO) 389. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  4. ^ a b c Barboza, David (13 August 2006). "Waiter, There’s a Celebrity in My Shark Fin Soup".  
  5. ^ "Recipes: Shark's Fin Soup". The New York Times. 3 November 1982. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Seafoods 3: Two Ways of Preparing Shark Fin (魚翅二法)". 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Fleshler, David; Lelis, Ludmilla (8 June 2008). "Demand for delicacy puts sharks in peril".  
  8. ^ a b Viegas, Jennifer (1 December 2009). "Shark fins traced to endangered populations". MSNBC.  
  9. ^ a b Woo, Joyce (5 September 2010). "Shark tale: Hong Kong's use of fins as a delicacy under fire".  
  10. ^ a b c d "FAO Techpaper 389, Background info". FAO. Retrieved 16 January 2002. 
  11. ^ "Shark's Fin in Chinese Cooking". Retrieved 6 January 2007. 
  12. ^ Buchanan, Wyatt (October 7, 2011). "Governor signs shark fin ban". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  13. ^ Mahr, Krista (9 August 2010). "Shark-Fin Soup and the Conservation Challenge". TIME. 
  14. ^ Lieberman, Dave (3 May 2010). "Why Is Shark's Fin So Controversial?". Orange County Weekly. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  15. ^ "Shark Fin Soup Nutrition Facts". Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  16. ^ "Vegetarian Vegetable Soup Nutrition Facts". Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  17. ^ "Alternative approaches to prostate cancer treatment.". Retrieved 23 June 2008. 
  18. ^ Pollack, Andrew (3 June 2007). "Shark Cartilage, Not a Cancer Therapy". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2009. 
  19. ^ The results of a study sponsored by the  
  20. ^ "Watch out for shark fin soup". China Daily. Retrieved 21 May 2005. 
  21. ^ "Beware of shark meat, FDA warns". CNN. 26 April 1996. 
  22. ^ "What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish" (PDF). FDA. Retrieved 2004. 
  23. ^ "What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish". EPA. Retrieved 2004. 
  24. ^ a b Laura Marquez (30 October 2006). "Decimating Shark Population for Some Soup". ABC News. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  25. ^ Karliah Brown (27 May 1999). "Fins for sale". The Independent (London). Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  26. ^ a b "WWF Marine Awareness Survey: Seafood consumption" (PDF). WWF. 13 October 2005. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  27. ^ a b "Yao Ming unlikely to curb China's shark fin appetite". The Taipei Times. 3 May 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  28. ^ "Media silent on shark fin soup affair". The Standard. 1 September 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  29. ^ Julie Chao (19 May 2004). "Chinese Taste For Endangered Seafood Growing". Cox News Service. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  30. ^ "Shark fin soup alters an ecosystem". CNN. 15 December 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  31. ^ a b c d Denyer, Simon (October 19, 2013). "In China, victory for wildlife conservation as citizens persuaded to give up shark fin soup".  
  32. ^ "China shark fin sellers serve up fake products complete with toxins". CleanBiz.Asia. 10 January 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  33. ^ Buckley, Louis (2007). The End of the Line (PDF). WildAid. p. 21. 
  34. ^ Lem, Sharon (5 July 2011). "Shark fins banned in Oakville". Toronto Sun. Archived from the original on 27 January 2012. 
  35. ^ Giam, Choo Hoo (1 December 2006). "Shark fin's soup – eat without guilt" (PDF). The Straits Times. 
  36. ^ Li, Zoe (8 March 2011). "Is a shark's fin ban anti-Chinese?". CNNGo. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  37. ^ "Hong Kong's shark fin traders feel pressure". Sydney Morning Herald. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  38. ^ "Shark Fins off the menu at top hotel". CNN. 22 November 2011. 
  39. ^ "Shangri-La Announces Sustainable Seafood Policy and Discontinuing Use of All Shark Fin Products in 72 Hotels and Resorts". Shangrila. 17 January 2012. 
  40. ^ "Carrefour says no to shark's fin". Yahoo!. 7 January 2012. 
  41. ^ Chester Yung and Teddy Ng (25 June 2005). "Disney ditches shark's fin". The Standard. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  42. ^ Doug Crets and Mimi Lau (3 November 2005). "HKU bans shark fin dishes". The Standard. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  43. ^ ", Malaysian ministry bans shark's fin soup". Channel NewsAsia. 15 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  44. ^ "Hawaii: Shark Fin Soup Is Off the Menu".  
  45. ^ "Washington bans sale, trade of shark fins". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  46. ^ Oregon House of Representatives bills of 2011 Oregon's shark fin bill was HB 2838 by Representative Brad Witt. Passed Senate unanimously, passed House 58 to 1. Signed into law by Governor John Kitzhaber on 16 June 2011.
  47. ^ "Bills Signed by Oregon Governor Kitzhaber". Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  48. ^ a b c Harmon, Steven (8 October 2011). "Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill banning shark fins in California". San Jose Mercury News. Archived from the original on 9 December 2011. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  49. ^ "Guam Moves to Protect Sharks – Governor Calvo Signs Shark Fin Ban Into Law in Guam".  
  50. ^ "Shark Fin Possession Bill Made Law Today in Guam". Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  51. ^ "Illinois Becomes Fifth State to Ban Shark Fin Trade". Humane Society of the United States. Retrieved November 20, 2012. 
  52. ^ Schiffman, Lizzie (2 July 2012). "Illinois Shark Fin Ban: First Inland State Adopts Policy Against Fin Sale, Trade". Huffington Post. Retrieved November 20, 2012. 
  53. ^ "Official California Legislative Information: AB 376". 
  54. ^ Steven Harmon (3 January 2013). "Federal judge deals setback to group trying to overturn California ban on shark fin soup". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  55. ^ "Shark fin ban sought by Vancouver council". CBC News. Retrieved November 20, 2012. 
  56. ^ Peat, Don. "Committee approves shark fin ban". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  57. ^ "City council votes 13–2 to ban sale, possession of shark fins". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 15 August 2012. 
  58. ^ Wassener, Bettina (3 July 2012). "China Says No More Shark Fin Soup at State Banquets". The New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2012. 
  59. ^ "Ontario judge rules Toronto's shark fin ban invalid". CBC News Toronto. Retrieved December 1, 2012. 
  60. ^ "Private member's bill pushing shark fin import ban fails". CBC News Ottawa. Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  61. ^ "Calgary delays shark fin ban decision". CBC News Calgary. Retrieved May 8, 2013. 
  62. ^ "Council shelves push for shark fin ban". Calgary Herald. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  63. ^ Taylor, Jerome; Morris, Sophie (2008-09-03). "Hakkasan drops its famed £40 shark fin soup over ethics - News - Food & Drink". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2013-12-01. 
  64. ^ "Gordon fronts Bite-Back 'Soup-er' stars". 11 May 2011. 
  65. ^ "Better than the real thing: Hong Kong's imitation shark's fin". CNN Travel. 27 May 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  66. ^ "Sharks Fin Soup". Fodor's. Fodor's Travel. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 

Further reading

  • Baum J.K., Myers R.A., Kehler D.G., Worm B., Harley S.J., Doherty P.A. (2003) – "Collapse and Conservation of Shark Populations in the Northwest Atlantic". Science, 5605: 389–392.

External links

  • Decimating Shark Population for Some Soup ABC News, 30 October 2006.
  • Fisherman holds shark fin by The Smithsonian Institution: Ocean Portal
  • How Sharks Have Paid the Price for Demand for Shark Fin Soup. The Voice of America's Special English Branch.
  • Shark Truth – a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to promoting awareness, education, and action about shark fin soup in the Chinese community
  • 'Fin - help end the horror', anti shark-finning advert produced by Bite-Back (marine conservation organization)
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