Take shark fin off the menu for good

Take shark fin off the menu for good

Thailand once again is under the international spotlight. A global report has pinpointed Thailand as a country with high consumption of shark fin, which is popular in Chinese food and traditional medicine but which raise conservation concerns.

In its recent report, Sharks in Crisis: Evidence of Positive Behavioral Change in China as New Threats Emerge, environmental advocacy group WildAid said some 57% of those polled in urban Thailand have consumed shark fin. This usually occurs at weddings, family dinners at restaurants and business meetings.

Sharks in Crisis -- released shortly ahead of the Chinese New Year, a time when family members reunite and celebrate the occasion together -- also found that more than 100 restaurants in Bangkok alone serve shark fin. Restaurants in several high-end hotels put the controversial dish in their Chinese New Year menus.

Other countries with growing levels of shark fin consumption are Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia, the report said. Shark fin soup is also popular in Macau and Taiwan.

According to the report, Singapore is the second largest importer and exporter of shark fins in terms of value, after Hong Kong.

The report recognised mainland China's success in reducing shark fin consumption, with a remarkable 80% decline. The reduction came as a result of strenuous public awareness campaign and a ban enacted in 2013 by the Chinese Communist Party on serving shark's fin at official functions. The ban was part of a sweeping government crackdown on corruption, excessive spending and extravagance.

The reported cited a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) which estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year, with parts of up to 73 million ending up in soup. A large number of sharks are killed unintentionally as bycatch.

According to IUCN,the 25% of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction.

Environmentalists warn that the loss of any species of shark -- many of which are classed as apex predators -- will adversely affect the ecological balance.

"Without sharks, the entire ocean ecosystem can collapse, and humans are sure to witness the consequences, as food sources we depend on disappear. In order to save our oceans, we must urgently address the multiple causes of shark species' declines," said the report.

Environmentalists have long disputed old beliefs about the health benefits of shark fin. In fact, there are now growing concerns about the potential health hazards posed by toxic chemicals that may be present in shark fins, meat and oil.

"As predators at the top of the food chain, over their lifetimes sharks accumulate the highest concentrations of toxic substances such as mercury, methylmercury, cadmium and arsenic, long-term exposure to which can cause cancer, skin lesions, cardiovascular disease and neurological impacts in humans," said WildAid.

The conservation agency stepped up calls, not only on the restaurant, hotel and catering sectors, to drop shark fin from menus, but also to all transport companies to adopt policies against shark fin cargo.

The WildAid report on rising consumption of shark fin soup in Thailand this year came as no surprise.

The country staged a fierce crusade against shark fin soup back in the early 2000s, with a series of educational campaigns to encourage people to drop the controversial dish from their diet. A film that showed how sharks were brutally killed -- their fins hacked off before being released back into the sea while alive, but doomed to die a slow death -- stunned the audience.

Rising concerns over the loss of shark fins encouraged innovation. Some food scientists produced artificial shark fins, which serve as a clever alternative to the natural ingredient.

It's unfortunate the impact of the campaign has faded over the years.

In 2016, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha while addressing a forum that was held to celebrate World Environment Day on June 5, conceded that he still ate shark fin soup, though much less.

His reduced consumption, the prime minister said, stemmed from his feeling sorry for the marine creatures which were killed in such a brutal way. Besides, he said he was "bored with" the soup.

It's understood that with his high position, the prime minister must have been served with the expensive dish quite often.

But reducing consumption is not enough.

With the rise in shark fin consumption, the country should reinforce public education, with strenuous campaigns against the contentious food product. Social values need to be readjusted so that shark fins cease to signify wealth and privilege. Shark fin fans should instead learn to practice political correctness now that an artificial version which tastes just as good is available.

Public figures such as the prime minister and other personalities should take a leading role by dropping shark fins from their diets, and encouraging the public to follow suits.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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