Shark Fin for All

Shark fin dumplings: not a "luxury" item

On Sunday morning, our family schlepped out to Rosemead for my niece’s 17th birthday. The destination for Isabel’s festivities was Sea Harbor, one of my brother Jonathan’s favorite dim sum places in the county. After all of these decades of grubbing with Jonathan, I generally don’t even bother looking at a menu or making an order. However, since it was a seafood palace AND the big vote on AB 376 is scheduled for today or Wednesday, I decided to see what shark fin soup went for on the menu.

Much to my dismay, not only did I see three different kinds of shark fin dumplings on the menu, but now the taste of extinction is affordable for all. The myth of shark fin’s availability for weddings and banquets is just that. In today’s society where shark fin dumplings have become a staple at dim sum, everyone can indulge in the consumption of the ocean’s apex predators. 

When Jonathan saw the prevalence of shark fin on the dim sum menu, he stopped making comments about what he was going to order to set me over the edge, and he asked about the scheduled Senate floor vote. I told him the vote could come up Tuesday or Wednesday and that there was a bill amendment going around that would weaken the shark fin sales ban by allowing the sale of fins from local, “sustainably” caught sharks.

There are two major problems with the approach.  California doesn’t have a sustainable seafood certification program (although the California Ocean Protection Council may consider creating a program by the end of the year). And secondly, as exemplified by Sunday’s breakfast, the demand for shark fin is so great that any certified “sustainable” shark fin fishery would soon become unsustainable.

Before anyone responds with a comment that this blog is an attack on Cantonese culture, please take note that we had two orders of chicken knees spinning around the Lazy Susan. And Jonathan was right about Sea Harbor, the place was pretty damn good — especially the day-glow, custard filled, pineapple buns that looked like yellow mushrooms, and the lime green, steamed spinach baos. I just hope that the next time I go there, there won’t be any shark fin on the menu.

2 Responses

  1. Shark’s fin used in dim sum is rather minute because of the price of shark’s fin. I’ve always thought that much of the shark’s fins sold in the US were imported from Hong Kong and such (which is why they bear such high prices). And if the Chinese restaurants have figured a way to substitute finely minced pig skin for the swallow’s nest in the Bird’s Nest Soup, I’m eventually someone will be able to create an imitation form of shark’s fin to use for dim sum (since it would be rather easy to replicate the essence/flavor of shark’s fin, if it hasn’t already).

    Would this industry be different if we develop farms that would sell the shark’s fin to the Chinese restaurant community, while shark filets to the general seafood market?

  2. A Cantonese friend of mine likened the tradition of Shark Fin Soup to binding women’s feet. What may have seemed like a good idea back then has proven to be not such a great idea afterall. I don’t know a single person in favor of shark finning. I suppose it must be an economic thing – maybe restaurants will lose money? In my opinion, Cantonese restaurants should proudly display signs that say Shark Fins NOT served here. My guess is that they would see a big increase in business!

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