No Shark Fin Soup For Our Wedding Banquet

Braised sea cucumber in superior sauce
Braised sea cucumber in superior sauce

When is a Chinese wedding banquet not a Chinese wedding banquet? Does the exclusion of shark fin soup and braised sea cucumber with abalone make it any less traditional? These exotic marine products cooked in various ways are as staple in Chinese wedding banquets as the copious amount of free-flowing brandy and shouts of yam seng punctuating the already jovial atmosphere.

Chinese banquets are all about “face” of the hosts. Therefore, the hosts will always attempt to go all out at serving dishes with ingredients that are exotic and expensive at banquets. Anything less and the hosts will lose face before their guests. As for me, I am more concerned about how the ingredients used are being harvested to extinction than losing face.

A while back, I watched on the Discovery channel how fins were hacked off and the sharks thrown back into the sea still alive to die a slow agonizing death. It was there and then that I decided that if I ever hold a wedding banquet, I will never serve shark fin soup. Likewise, abalones and sea cucumbers have become endangered species due to over-exploitation.

If not shark fin, sea cucumber and abalone then what? Changing times demand a change in traditions. Although I have grown up with the impression that these are must-haves at wedding banquets, I am sure the restaurants will be able to come out with alternative dishes for the menu. There are so many other commonly available ingredients to cook up delicious dishes with.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

15 thoughts on “No Shark Fin Soup For Our Wedding Banquet”

  1. Thanks for this post – I didn’t realize exotic was a requirement for a “good” Chinese wedding banquet too! Thought expensive is what matters.

    The garoupa fish should also be added on the NO list too as this reef fish is fast disappearing too 🙁

    Exotic=expensive. 😀 Sad to say Chinese people are eating many species to extinction.

  2. yes, i agree…sometimes resources (food, money etc) are blindly wasted and spent on for the sake of ‘face’…

    Face – because we are all vain one way or another.

  3. Shark fin soup is a Chinese delicacy that has been served for more than 2,000 years to honour important occasions. Out of the estimated 400 species of sharks, only 83 are considered as endangered. They are endangered not because we ate them. Sharks are more a threat to the more endangered species of sea turtles and other endangered marine lives as they are on the very top of the ocean food chain. Most sharkfin on the market now are harvested from grey or white tipped reef sharks which are in abundance and are actually a nuisance to the ecological system and coral habitat. These sharks are finned and the meat sold to the markets or ended up as fish farm fish food. You don’t expect they are finned and nursed back to health eh? Some sharkfins doesn’t even come from sharks but stingrays.

    As for abalones, most dried and tinned variety came form abalone farms in Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. Abalones are easy to farm, most pearl farmers are into it now. Japanese abalone farming is thriving and they are expensive not because they are endangered but because they are tediously dried to perfection, Japanese style. Wild abalones in south Africa are harmed more by illegal trawler net users rather than for human consumption. The high prices for abalone is because of the tedious process of drying and cooking them, not because they are rare and endangered.

    Sea cucumbers are a dollar a tonne. they are declining in Ecuador because they over harvested them, not because they are over eaten by you. the most expensive “thorned variety” is farmed, not harvested. Sea cucumbers are in abundance throughout the world. The number you ate is less than the number you stepped on and harmed when you went to the beach!

    Lastly the 4 traditional exotic food of the Chinese, namely “pow, sum, chi, tow” (abalone, sea cucumber, sharkfin, fish maw) has existed for thousands of years. they are the reason for the existence of celebration in Chinese tradition. they are also the reason on which the economy and trade is built on.

    WWF? I’d say they have no idea! They should go issue a warning on the mass and brutal killing of chickens by KFC instead!

    If I do not know better, I would say you have major stakes in businesses selling these marine products.

  4. Just to put things into perspective.
    How often do you come across a wild chicken? The chicken we all ate is farmed. We dont bother that wild chicken are near extintion and we dont bother how many species of chicken there are. We do not bother if the chicken are killed humanely for consumption or simply got its head chopped off and left to die.
    WWF hoohaing about wild abalone, ecuadorian sea cucumbers and endangered shark’s fin for the wrong reasons. We simply do not consume them anymore.

  5. Don’t worry about the chickens, PETA is taking care of them. That’s about animal rights, not about protecting wild chickens.

  6. Interesting discussion here…

    PandanKia – care to substantiate your comments with realiable sources esp on shark’s fin?

    While I agree with your comments on the sea cucumbers (and to a certain extent the shark’s fin), you must know that the WWF and IUCN are research-based organizations. Thus, they don’t sound the alarm without a basis.

    Peter – I forgot to mention my heart-breaking experience marketing here in China: baby sharks on sale! I believe this is illegal but in several parts of Asia, I know they are sold to consumers (not sure if Chinese are targeted) with the assurance that these young sharks contain less mercury than adult sharks 🙁

  7. WWF have no idea huh..sad.. i do know that all of the panda passport i signed for, the effort they come up with, manage to save a species or two. So these animals are not endangered because we eat them but because they are over why are they over harvested again..hmm..i dont think its for fun..wait, its for those who are buying to eat them…and it goes back to us (not that Im eating any of it).
    I do know this, about 100 million sharks are killed each year and 70% of their fins are used in sharks fin soup due to the again. The high price of sharks fin, also contributed to this demand, it was reported in China that a bowl of sharks fin soup can fetch a price of US72 and a particular 5 star hotel can sell up to 50 bowls a day! Each bowl uses about 200gm of sharks fin so their usage is about 10 kg a day !. Now if my memory serves me right, a single sharks fin weight about a few grams only. So how many sharks have to die to cater for one demand from one hotel in China ??
    Go figure.. why do people want to eat it today still baffles me, with the degree of pollution in our seas and sharks being the top predator the mercury content is high AND where does most of these mercury resides in a shark ?? its fin. mercury can cause sterility in men and impaired learning abilities in unborn babies which is why pregnant mothers are advised against consuming it. Well, I suggest that those whose interested to read all about this issue, there are tons of info on the net. Dont let one person stop you from doing what you think is right.

  8. Good on ya, Ko. Excellent way to go. Proud that you’re making a statement on behalf of the environment.

  9. KittyCat,
    Go to your local wet market and you will probably see more baby sharks on sale. Actually they are adult reef sharks which is in abundance. Now guess where does those fins go if not thrown.

    Reef sharks are listed as “near threatened” in the US, because of changes in their habitat. It doesn’t mean, however, that they are “near threatened” especially around Asia Pacific where they poses a threat to the ecology system of coral reefs.

    You over-harvested petai in your backyard doesn’t mean it is endangered. It simply means you are greedy while others have plenty. Seriously, I have no interest to argue a case with someone who probably has no tradition to speak of. Who’s exotic food probably means nasi lemak, satay, sambal petai and pisang goreng.
    You probably have higher risk of getting mercury poisoning from eating sushi than a bowl of sharkfin soup.

    Stop watching 5 years old national geographic programmes on astro. Watch silly WWF programmes instead. (world wrestling federation).

  10. good on you peter!! i refused to have shark fins soup for my wedding banquet either and although i used to love it, its been many, many years since i had a bowl. thanks to a video clip i saw many years ago. i’m glad that my actions had also encouraged some of my family members and friends to stop eating shark fins soup as well. 🙂 i sent them the clip! 😛

    ppsstt…..i think ur little post is creating quite a debae here! lol u got a stalker hor?

  11. Pandan Kia, you need to focus on the core issue here. And please don’t show us all how much of a racist you really are with your comment to Khatijah. Who are you to raise one tradition and put down another? And this thread is also not really about animal welfare and cruelty, but rather conservation of threatened and endangered species. Additionally, WWF works on nature conservation and not animal cruelty, so please do your research before you spout.

    You seem to think that because something is a tradition, that it should not be questioned and just practised forever. I would argue that there are good and bad traditions and one hallmark of a good tradition is that it can adapt to contemporary situations and take note when it is doing more harm than good. The consumption of sharksfin is not a good tradition because sharksfins have no nutritional value, can contain high amounts of mercury, and are causing the world’s population of many shark species to crash. And you are wrong when you say that our consumption of sharksfin is not a reason that their numbers are plummeting. It is the CHIEF reason why their numbers are plummeting.

    Your claim that sharks are more a threat to endangered sea turtles and other endangered marine species as they are on the top of the food chain is so misguided and wrong, I don’t know where to begin. That was designed by nature, so are you questioning nature? The main reason most species of wildlife are threatened is due to human activity and consumption patterns. We have overharvested and polluted our oceans and in our frenzy for turtle eggs and bekko (look it up if you don’t know what that is) and overfishing with indiscriminate devices that also kill non-target organisms (like marine turtles and dolphins), we are also sending marine turtles to an untimely end. And seriously, you can hardly find shark meat for sale, so if any shark meat is harvested at all for consumption, it is a rarity. Sharks are killed for their fins to feed the sharkfin market and people like you. Period.

  12. PandanKia – I agree with Eugene that your personal attack on Khatijah is uncalled for, no matter how you feel about the lack of awareness on endangered species etc. Isn’t overharvesting one of the main reasons for endangered fish species? Not sure what you mean where you mentioned overharvesting does not mean endangered.

    Khatijah – As PandanKia pointed out, “overharvesting” comes from greed i.e. commercial fishing for $$$ which means big boats, big nets that aim to catch big fish like cod, mackerel for big money. However, the little fishes left behind may not survive the rough seas to a ripe old age (as the industrial fishers think they would) because all the adults are not there to protect them from predators! The big nets end up catching/damaging other small species’ survival.

    Eugene – Endangered species around the world are threatened largely due to the culture/traditions associated to their killing. Tigers are almost extinct for blood sport, their skins and perceived medicinal values. Is it easy to stop hunters in the West e.g. US and UK who LOVE hunting? The answer is no.

    Thus, it’s also not easy to stop the Chinese from eating shark’s fin soup. How can you suddenly stop something that dates back more than 2,000 years old? If I were to ask you stop brushing your teeth starting from NOW and NEVER brush it again, could you do it? 😉

    See brief history & background of shark’s fin soup here:

    PandanKia mentions this fabulous point about the popular (and unfair) blame on the Chinese for being the sole reason behind the extinction of sharks. As someone from the the publicity industry, let me share with you the world’s oldest lesson “sensation sells” i.e. what’s graphic, horrifying, strange catches and holds people’s attention more than melting ice in Antartica that threatens to wipe out everyone on Earth in 50 years.

    Why do you think the panda is WWF’s mascot? Compare that to the sang kancil, orang utan or dugong – which one do people remember most? The panda is cute and it’s easier to feel bad about pandas going extinct than some plain ugly little frog in the Amazon forest even though that frog may hold the key to curing HIV/AIDS!

    Also, since everyone is blaming the Chinese, why interfere with the public’s disbelief if the other 4 “predators” of sharks can quietly continue what they are doing since nobody’s paying attention?

    In truth, since the number of sharks have died down, most shark’s fin soup is fake anyway. Isn’t China famous for fake stuff?

    As I’m living in China now, I can tell you it’s amazing the variety of fake stuff they can produce – heck, did you know they can make their own eggs??? I see a lot of shark fins on sale here but guess what? Nobody’s buying. Even the locals say, “You ke neng si jia de!” (They could be fake!)

    You’d also be surprised at the conservation and energy-saving efforts that the Chinese are admirably doing as the media usually picks up bad news…

    Shark meat IS on sale in many places e.g. Europe, US, China, Kota Kinabalu and even markets in Penang if you know how to look for them.

    Here’s some info on the threats to shark populations from BBC:

    Since quite a number of people here are passionate about saving wildlife, shall we stop fighting and find out how we can save them instead? It’s a shame to waste such passion 🙂


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