Shark Fin Soup Banned in Hawaii

Conservation of our environment and the species that inhabit it involves hard work and often, sacrifice. Many restaurant owners and lovers of a certain Chinese seafood delicacy are facing one such sacrifice starting this week.

On Friday, June 1, 2011, a law banning the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins will officially take effect in Hawaii. Since Governor Lingle signed the bill into law last May, those who serve shark fin soup, have had a full year to use up their supply. Starting Friday, anyone found to be breaking the law will face fines from $5,000 up to $15,000 for their first offense. Anyone convicted of a third offense will face fines from $35,000 to $50,000 and the possibility of jail time.

Is a bowl of soup really worth the risk? Some say that the dish is an important part of Chinese culture and often seen as a status symbol, served to guests of honor at prices reaching up to $80 per bowl.

But conservation and environmental activists believe that protecting sharks must take priority over keeping shark fin soup on the menu. And lawmakers agreed, making Hawaii the first state in the nation to ban the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins.

It is estimated that more than 80 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. Many are thrown back in the ocean to die, with the remaining 95 percent of their mass wasted for the five percent – the fin – that is needed for the soup. The demand for shark fin soup has led to a dramatic decrease in the global shark population, which has declined by as much as 99 percent in recent decades.

Those who fear sharks and fail to understand the impact of decimated shark populations may believe that less sharks in our oceans is a good thing. But less sharks means an extreme disruption of the natural marine life systems. Courtney Sakai, a senior campaign director at Oceana, expressed her concern, stating, “The global shark fin trade is driving the oceans to collapse” (Source).

The ban is causing many to question what happens when culture clashes with conservation. When the bill was signed into law last year, an Associate Press article quoted Johnson Choi, the Hong Kong China Hawaii Chamber of Commerce president’s defense of the delicacy, stating, “I don’t think you should say it should be illegal to have shark fin…Shark fins are part of food culture – Chinese have had food culture for over 5,000 years”.

Others of Chinese decent argued in favor of the ban, noting that shark fin soup is not a culture, it’s a tradition that only a few are able to enjoy at the expense of endangering sharks worldwide. Senator Clayton Hee, the sponsor of the bill that has become law and a person of Chinese and Native Hawaiian descent explained, “It’s a tradition of serving shark fin to those who could most afford it. It’s an indulgent activity”. And if it’s a matter of culture, the Native Hawaiian culture – with a deep respect for sharks – should also be considered.

No matter the arguments, the law is clear and as of Friday, officially in effect in Hawaii as well as Washington.  Although residents and visitors to the Aloha state will no longer find shark fin soup on the menu, thanks to the new law, shark conservation advocates have found new hope, while others – in places such as California, Oregon, Guam, and the Northern Marianas Islands – have found inspiration.