The sickening taste of shark fin soup

Each time I pass by a certain shark fin soup restaurant in central Jakarta on my way home each evening I get a sickening feeling in my stomach.

Now I’m not saying that killing animals is necessarily wrong, but the whole notion of slaughtering these magnificent sea creatures just to obtain the ingredients for a soup is sick beyond belief. Only the fins have any use; the fishermen just chuck the rest of the shark’s carcass overboard.

Not only that but most of the people that order this dish only do so for reasons of “prestige”, and to show everyone how much disposable income they have. Shark soup, as you might imagine, is incredibly expensive.

And the killing of sharks has got so out of control that the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group (SSG) has estimated that “shark finning - the practice of slicing off a shark's fins and discarding the carcass - now causes the death of tens of millions of sharks worldwide each year”.

But there is some good news in the Asian region though:

Malaysia is to throw its weight behind Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Karim Bujang, who suggested banning shark fin soup from being served at government functions.

Good man. But whether such gestures will be enough to preserve sensitive marine ecosystems is another matter entirely of course. And I don’t reckon countries like Singapore and China really care that much either.

But, according to this site, the shark might have the last laugh anyway:

Shark fin typically is cooked for a very long time until the shark fin separates into needles of cartilage that look like clear noodles. The fin itself has no taste, but it absorbs the flavor of the soup broth it is cooked in. Shark fin has little nutritional value but it does contain high levels of mercury. Sharks, being at the top of the marine food chain, bioconcentrate mercury in their bodies. Mercury, in the form of methylmercury, is evenly distributed in body tissues of fish and thus one finds about the same concentrations in muscle, neural tissue and cartilage. Average size sharks demonstrate mercury concentrations (in muscle) from roughly 0.5 to 2 ug/g (ppm) (Food Additives and Contaminants, Vol. 20, No. 9, September, 2003, pp. 813–818). The mercury concentration in large sharks may reach 5 ppm. The threshold for mercury in seafood, above which fish consumption becomes hazardous, is a hotly debated topic and certainly depends on how much is eaten and how often, but most agree that concern begins at or above 0.1 ppm for pregnant mothers and small children.

So, what goes around comes around it seems!


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