New York Bans Sale of Shark Fins, But They're Still on the Menu in Houston
On Friday, July 26, the state of New York became the eighth U.S. state to ban the sale of shark fins in an effort to protect the world's sharks. Last May, a bill to ban shark fin trade in Texas died in the Senate, but due to increasing awareness about the cruelty of shark finning as well as the expense of making the Chinese delicacy shark fin soup, many Texas restaurants are taking shark fin soup off their menus.
Photo by Nicholas Wang
Shark fin soup, often served at Chinese weddings and banquets as a symbol of wealth and prosperity, is controversial due to the often inhumane way in which shark fins are obtained. Because the fins are the most useful part of the shark, hunters will catch a shark, cut off all its fins, then release it back into the ocean still alive, where, unable to move, it will die a slow, painful death from blood loss, suffocation or starvation. Releasing the sharks frees up space on the fishing vessels for more fins.
Shark finning is one reason for the rapid decline in shark populations. Sharks are slow to mature and do not reproduce as often or have as many young as other sea creatures, so killing sharks can have a large impact on the population. Other people are less concerned with the environmental impact of shark finning and take greater issue with the morality of cutting off an animal's limbs and leaving it to die.
The U.S. protects sharks from finning with the Shark Conservation Act (introduced by John Kerry in 2009), which prohibits any vessels from carrying more shark fins than carcasses. Additionally, all sharks must be brought to port with their fins still attached. Several states have outlawed the sale or trade of shark fins entirely, as New York did last week, but in Texas, shark fin soup is still legal, for now. And it's available right here in Houston.
The Humane Society of the United States' Texas director, Katie Jarl, has been very outspoken about the organization's disapproval of the shark fin trade in Texas, and she worked on the bill to ban the sale and trade of shark fins in Texas.
Photo by Grolltech
"The fins caught off the Gulf Coast aren't going directly into local Chinese restaurants," Jarl explains. "What fishermen are doing is bagging up the fins and shipping them internationally, most likely to China, where they've already overfished sharks. In Texas, by allowing the sale and trade of shark fins, we are directly contributing to the global decimation of sharks worldwide."
Jarl also noted that when the failed bill was first proposed, not a single restaurant or supplier came out in opposition to it. Even the owners of Chinese restaurants and catering companies who are the usual producers of shark fin soup were mum on the subject. She said Landry's voiced its approval of the bill, telling her it understands the seafood business depends upon maintaining a balanced ecosystem, and sharks are an important part of that.
The Humane Society was able to provide us with a list of Texas restaurants that still serve shark fin soup, though Jarl notes that many restaurants won't admit to it, even though it's still completely legal in Texas. The dish has become so taboo that no one wants to talk about it. We did some sleuthing of our own and found some additional restaurants that continue to prepare the controversial dish. Some places we called admitted that customers rarely order the expensive soup, so they've considered removing it from the menu. For now, though, it seems shark fin soup is here to stay.