New York appears to be the next American state joining the battle against shark fin soup, issuing a bill that could ban the sale, trading, possession and distribution by 2013 of the ever-so-controversial Chinese delicacy.
Traditionally served at Chinese wedding banquets and celebrations, shark fin soup is regarded as a status symbol, often thought to be the ultimate reflection of a host's wealth. With Chinese grocery stores pushing the delicacy for anywhere from $100 to $500 per pound, it's no wonder why Chinese families would be quick to add shark fin soup to their next banquet's menu.
It's estimated that about 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, and sometimes their fins alone. Fishermen have been reported as throwing the fin-less sharks back in the ocean to die. Some shark species have almost been fished to extinction.
Yes, these are harsh, cruel realities. Being an outsider, it's easy for me to think, "What's the controversy? This is obviously a crime!" But wait. There's always two sides to a story.
The delicacy is believed to bring good luck and wealth, and has been served for centuries. Centuries. In a culture where tradition plays a fairly significant role (so I'm told), banning a delicacy that has been around for centuries can only mean one thing: somebody's going to get hurt.
And indeed, people will be hurt. Namely, restaurants and older generations who have grown up eating shark fin soup at Chinese banquet halls. It seems that the younger generation doesn't quite feel the same attachment to the dish, and would rather see sharks saved than tradition maintained for the sake of it. Even Chinese NBA star Yao Ming is on board, supporting conservation group Wild Aid in both Asia and North America. But let's make it official—can we get a J. Lin endorsement too?
New York is the major East Coast importer of shark fins. With the whole West Coast already on board (California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington already passed bans last year), and the pending ban in New York State, it's looking like Chinese banquet halls will need to find the perfect shark fin substitute.
What's your take? Can we balance the old with the new? Tradition with sustainability? Is it even possible?