Shark fin soup
Shark fin soup is a popular soup item of Chinese cuisine
Chinese cuisine
Chinese cuisine is any of several styles originating in the regions of China, some of which have become highly popular in other parts of the world – from Asia to the Americas, Australia, Western Europe and Southern Africa...

 usually served at special occasions such as weddings and banquets, or as a luxury item in Chinese culture. The shark fins provide texture while the taste comes from the other soup ingredients.

There is controversy over the practice of shark finning
Shark finning
Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and the discarding of the rest of the fish. Shark finning takes place at sea so the fishers only have to transport the fins.Shark finning is widespread, and largely unmanaged and unmonitored...

. Consumption of shark fin soup has risen dramatically with the middle class becoming more affluent, as Chinese communities around the world enjoy increasing income levels. Environmental groups claim that finning has caused decline of shark species, which, as top predators in the ocean, are essential to the stability of oceanic ecosystems. Fishing fleets catch an estimated 70 million sharks a year as of 2010.

However, research has shown that the vast majority of shark species are gaining in population and not endangered; CITES lists only 3 out of 400 species as needing protection. Furthermore, shark finning
Shark finning
Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and the discarding of the rest of the fish. Shark finning takes place at sea so the fishers only have to transport the fins.Shark finning is widespread, and largely unmanaged and unmonitored...

 contributes to a small proportion of sharks caught worldwide; most sharks are caught in European nations as bycatch
The term “bycatch” is usually used for fish caught unintentionally in a fishery while intending to catch other fish. It may however also indicate untargeted catch in other forms of animal harvesting or collecting...

, for sport, or for their meat. As a result, the movement against shark fins have been variously described as misled, reliant on populist rhetoric, or Sinophobic.


Shark fin soup dates back to China's Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

. The popularity of shark fin soup rose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as standards of living began to improve. The delicacy was coveted by emperors because it was rare, delicious, and required elaborate preparation. Holding both culinary and symbolic significance, the dish is popular at important occasions such as weddings, banquets, and important business deals. It symbolizes wealth, power, prestige and honor. This staple of gourmet Chinese cuisine is a show of respect, honor, and appreciation to the guests.


Genuine shark fin soup or stew is made with shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

 fins obtained from any of a variety of shark species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

. Raw shark fins are processed by first removing the skin, trimming them to shape, and thoroughly drying them. Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest peroxide and an oxidizer. Hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid, slightly more viscous than water. In dilute solution, it appears colorless. With its oxidizing properties, hydrogen peroxide is often used as a bleach or cleaning agent...

 may be used before drying to make their colour more appealing.

Shark fins are the cartilaginous
Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue found in many areas in the bodies of humans and other animals, including the joints between bones, the rib cage, the ear, the nose, the elbow, the knee, the ankle, the bronchial tubes and the intervertebral discs...

 pectoral and dorsal fin
Dorsal fin
A dorsal fin is a fin located on the backs of various unrelated marine and freshwater vertebrates, including most fishes, marine mammals , and the ichthyosaurs...

s of a shark. Sharks' fins are sold in two forms: frozen and dried. Both need to be softened before they can be used to prepare soup. The frozen form is ready to use, as it has been prepared and therefore only requires about an hour or two of soaking.

There are two types of the dried form, skinned (shredded) and whole, which requires more preparation.


In shark fin soup, the fins themselves are virtually tasteless. The taste comes from the soup, while the fins are valued for their texture. Keith Bradsher
Keith Bradsher
Keith Bradsher is a reporter for The New York Times. He has been the chief Hong Kong correspondent since 2002, reporting on events from greater China and southeast Asia on topics ranging from news to finance, culture and the environment...

 of The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

 describes it as a "chewy, sinewy, stringy" texture. Krista Mahr of TIME
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

 called it "somewhere between chewy and crunchy." Dave Lieberman of OC Weekly
OC Weekly
OC Weekly, a sister publication of both LA Weekly and The Village Voice, is a free, left-wing weekly paper distributed in Orange County, California and also in Long Beach....

 wrote that it is a "snappy, gelatinous texture." Westerners
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

 reaction to eating shark fin soup for the first time is that it has almost no taste. However, texture is prized as much as taste in Asian cuisine.

Nutritional value and health issues

Chinese culture has lauded shark fins' alleged properties to boost sexual potency, enhance skin quality, increase one's qi
In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts...

or energy, prevent heart disease, and lower cholesterol.

Vitamin content of typical shark fin soup is much less than that of typical vegetable soup, containing almost no vitamin A
Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a vitamin that is needed by the retina of the eye in the form of a specific metabolite, the light-absorbing molecule retinal, that is necessary for both low-light and color vision...

. However, it contains slightly more iron, zinc, riboflavin, and phosphorus than normal vegetable soup.

There are apparently false claims that shark fins prevent cancer
Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

. No scientific proof supports these claims; at least one study has shown shark cartilage to be of no value in cancer treatment.

If consumed in extremely large quantities, shark fin soup may cause sterility
Infertility primarily refers to the biological inability of a person to contribute to conception. Infertility may also refer to the state of a woman who is unable to carry a pregnancy to full term...

 in men due to mercury content. The FDA recommends pregnant women and young children avoid eating shark fins.


Shark fin soup is a popular delicacy in China, and is eaten in Chinese restaurants around the world. Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid
WildAid is an international 501 NGO whose mission is to end the illegal wildlife trade. Rather than an issue of biology or culture WildAid views the illegal wildlife trade fundamentally as a matter of economics - of supply and demand....

, said in 2001 that the shark fin trade more than doubled in the prior 15 years.

A survey carried out in China in 2006 by WildAid and the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association found that 35% of participants said they had consumed shark fin soup in the last year, while 83% of participants in an online survey conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature
World Wide Fund for Nature
The World Wide Fund for Nature is an international non-governmental organization working on issues regarding the conservation, research and restoration of the environment, formerly named the World Wildlife Fund, which remains its official name in Canada and the United States...

, said that they had consumed shark fin soup at some time.

In Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 restaurants, where the market has traditionally been strong, demand from Hong Kong natives has reportedly dropped, but this has been more than balanced by an increase in demand from the Chinese mainland, as the economic growth of China has put this expensive delicacy within the reach of a growing middle class.

Based on information gathered from the Hong Kong trade in fins, the market is estimated to be growing by 5% a year. The high price of the soup means it is often used as a way to impress guests or at celebrations, Fifty-eight percent of those questioned in the WWF survey said they ate the soup at a celebration or gathering.

Types of "shark" used

According the Food and Agriculture Organization
Food and Agriculture Organization
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is a specialised agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and...

, the preferred shark and shark-like ray species for fins are tiger
Tiger shark
The tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, is a species of requiem shark and the only member of the genus Galeocerdo. Commonly known as sea tigers, tiger sharks are relatively large macropredators, capable of attaining a length of over . It is found in many tropical and temperate waters, and is...

, mako
Shortfin mako shark
The shortfin mako shark, Isurus oxyrinchus , is a large mackerel shark. Along with the closely related longfin mako it is commonly referred to as a "mako shark".-Etymology:...

, sawfish
Sawfish, also known as the Carpenter Shark, are a family of rays, characterized by a long, toothy nose extension snout. Several species can grow to approximately . The family as a whole is largely unknown and little studied...

, sandbar
Sandbar shark
The sandbar shark, Carcharhinus plumbeus, is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, native to the Atlantic Ocean and the Indo-Pacific. It is distinguishable by its very high first dorsal fin and inter-dorsal ridge....

, bull
Bull shark
The bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, also known as Zambezi shark or unofficially known as Zambi in Africa and Nicaragua shark in Nicaragua, is a shark common worldwide in warm, shallow waters along coasts and in rivers...

, hammerhead
Hammerhead shark
The hammerhead sharks are a group of sharks in the family Sphyrnidae, so named for the unusual and distinctive structure of their heads, which are flattened and laterally extended into a "hammer" shape called a "cephalofoil". Most hammerhead species are placed in the genus Sphyrna while the...

, blacktip
Blacktip shark
The blacktip shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae. It is common to coastal tropical and subtropical waters around the world, including brackish habitats. Genetic analyses have revealed substantial variation within this species, with populations from the western Atlantic Ocean...

, porbeagle
The porbeagle is a species of mackerel shark in the family Lamnidae, distributed widely in the cold and temperate marine waters of the North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere. In the North Pacific, its ecological equivalent is the closely related salmon shark...

, blue
Blue shark
The blue shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, that inhabits deep waters in the world's temperate and tropical oceans. Preferring cooler waters, blue sharks migrate long distances, for example from New England to South America. Although generally lethargic, they can move very...

 and thresher
Thresher shark
Thresher sharks are large lamniform sharks of the family Alopiidae. Found in all temperate and tropical oceans of the world, the family contains three species all within the genus Alopias.-Taxonomy:...


Fins from the critically endangered sawfish (Pristidae) "are highly favored in Asian markets and are some of the most valuable shark fins." Sawfishes are now protected under the highest protection level of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Appendix I, but given the great volume of the shark fin trade, and as detached shark fins are difficult to identify, it is unlikely that CITES protection will prevent highly valued sawfish fins from entering the trade.


A third of all fins imported to Hong Kong come from Europe. Spain is by far the largest supplier, providing between 2,000 and 5,000 metric tonnes a year. Norway supplies 39 metric tonnes, but Britain, France, Portugal and Italy are also major suppliers.

Hong Kong handles at least 50% and possibly up to 80% of the world trade in shark fin, with the major suppliers being Europe, Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

, Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

, Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates, abbreviated as the UAE, or shortened to "the Emirates", is a state situated in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman, and Saudi Arabia, and sharing sea borders with Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Iran.The UAE is a...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

, India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, and Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...



Some researchers believed that from 1996 to 2000, 26 to 73 million sharks were traded yearly. The annual median for the period was 38 million, nearly four times more than the UN estimates, but considerably lower than those of many conservationists. The total was 70 million in 2010. Shark fins are a billion dollar industry.

Major declines in shark populations have been recorded in recent years—some species have been depleted by over 90% over the past 20–30 years, with a population decline of 70% not being unusual. However, out of the nearly 400 species of sharks, only 3 are classified as requiring protection by CITES. The population of most species are on the rise since 2001, following improved industry standards.

It is popularly believed and widely reported that only a small amount of the shark is actually kept, and that during [Shark finning|finning]], the fins are cut from living sharks. After the fins have been cut off, the remainder of the fish, which is often still alive, is thrown back into the sea. However, Giam Choo Hoo, the longest-serving member of CITES, reports that such claims are misleading. "The perception that it is common practice to kill sharks for only their fins - and to cut them off whilst the sharks are still alive - is wrong.... The vast majority of fins in the market are taken from sharks after their death." Indeed, the widely reported practice of cutting off fins from living sharks and throwing back into the sea only occurs in longline fishing vessels that are targeting other types of fish, such as tuna
Tuna is a salt water fish from the family Scombridae, mostly in the genus Thunnus. Tuna are fast swimmers, and some species are capable of speeds of . Unlike most fish, which have white flesh, the muscle tissue of tuna ranges from pink to dark red. The red coloration derives from myoglobin, an...

 and swordfish
Swordfish , also known as broadbill in some countries, are large, highly migratory, predatory fish characterized by a long, flat bill. They are a popular sport fish of the billfish category, though elusive. Swordfish are elongated, round-bodied, and lose all teeth and scales by adulthood...


Further reading

  • Baum J.K., Myers R.A., Kehler D.G., Worm B., Harley S.J., Doherty P.A. (2003) — Collapse and Conservation of Shark Populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science, 5605: 389–392.

External links

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