Singapore hopes to keep sharks from soup


SINGAPORE, Reuters

Shark lovers in Singapore hope to save the fish and its fins by weaning the city state off the popular soup with a year-long campaign.

Shark’s fin soup, which can cost up to US$100 per bowl, is a much sought-after delicacy among Chinese in the region and is often slurped down at business and wedding dinners.

“Sharks are vanishing from our waters,” Michael Aw, publisher of Asian Geographic magazine and chairman of the non-profit OceaNEnvironment Australia organization, told Reuters on Tuesday.

“We’re trying to get people to say no to shark’s fin entirely. But people will not give it up. If they can reduce the consumption, that’s great.”

The Save Our Sharks (SOS) campaign was launched this week.

Singapore is the world’s third largest center for the shark fin trade after Hong Kong and Taiwan, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

International conservation group WildAid estimates trade in shark fins more than doubled to 7,000 tons between 1980 and 1997. About 50 to 60 meter-long sharks are killed to produce 100 kg (220 lb) of fin, Aw said.

To feed the demand and save on boat space, fishermen slice the fins off live sharks and toss the hapless creatures back into the sea to die.

With the number of sharks in Asian waters dwindling, traders are going as far as the Galapagos Islands and the South African coast to find more fins, Aw said.

“The fin has no nutritional value at all. It is the chicken stock or fish stock that gives the taste to the soup,” Aw said. “We’re talking about eating cartilage, the equivalent to your fingernails or your hair.”

The SOS campaign is roping in students from 25 schools to collect pledges from friends and family not to eat shark’s fin. Aw plans to have pledge cards in all schools eventually.

SOS is also trying to coax Chinese restaurants and hotels to stop serving the dish in exchange for free publicity on the campaign organizers’ Web sites.

Advertisements and a music video also have been created to educate the public of cruelty to sharks.

Aw hopes to bring a similar SOS campaign to Malaysia within six months, followed by Hong Kong and Australia.