By Dr Gerry
I was talking to some Asian visitors to the Andaman Resort’s Coral Nursery a few days ago. One gentleman asked why the Jala Seafood Restaurant didn’t serve shark fin soup if they serve other kinds of fish. “What’s the difference? Fish is fish!”
It was a good question and there are two parts to the answer.
First, most of the shark fins are cut off living animals in a process called ‘finning’ and then the live shark is dumped overboard to struggle and eventually die on the ocean bottom. It is a cruel practice carried out because shark boats prefer to fill up on the expensive fins rather than the cheaper meat.
Second, sharks are being overfished and many species are now facing extinction. The current rate of landing sharks is estimated to be about 30,000 per hour; 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Sharks simply don’t reproduce fast enough or grow fast enough to sustain the carnage.
Sharks are at the top of the food pyramid and regulate the numbers of much of the other seafood in the ocean as well as the growth of corals on tropical reefs. The rapid deterioration of Caribbean Reefs, even the loss of vast areas of beautiful coral, is directly related to overfishing sharks.
In Asia the situation is much worse. Some 80% of coral reefs are in trouble and most wild stock fisheries have been reduced by a staggering 90%.
When the Jala Seafood Restaurant decided not to offer shark fin soup it was a brave step for a 5 star dining venue in Asia. Jala’s sustainable seafood is seafood that is either caught or farmed in ways that consider the long-term vitality of harvested species and the well-being of the oceans. Sustainable seafood was first promoted through the movement which began in the 1990s. Incredibly, big things do grow from small beginnings and now shark fin is off the menu in all Starwood Hotels, one of the World’s largest hotel companies with some 1,500 properties. All the Shangri-la Hotels, the Swiss-Belhotel chain, and Spain’s largest hotel chain, Melia, have followed suit.
Dozens of countries have banned shark finning from their waters. A few have even banned fishing for sharks altogether, such as the Bahamas, the Maldives, Brunei, Honduras, and Palau. In fact, a 2011 study in Palau found that sharks were worth far more alive than dead due to tourism. According to the research, a single shark during its life brings in $1.9 million in tourism revenue. Current fin prices are only about $150 per kilo.
Our complements to Chef Rene and the Starwood Hotels around the world who have made good decisions and are helping to protect our little blue planet.
Chef Rene says, “Sometimes guests feel disappointed that some species aren’t on the menu. But once they realize that we are only doing our part in protecting the future of the ocean and its marine life they understand and support our efforts.”