Thais’ hunger for shark fin soup is leading to the animal’s population decline


BANGKOK — More than half of Thais have eaten shark fin soup and plan to continue consuming the Asian delicacy in the future despite an “alarming” decline in the shark population, a wildlife group said on Tuesday.

A report released by WildAid, a U.S.-based conservation group, says that 100 million sharks are killed worldwide each year. Of that number, 73 million ended up in shark fin soup, leading to as much as a 98 percent decline in the global shark population since 2002.

In response to a high demand for the dish in Asia due to beliefs in its health benefits and association to social status, sharks have been caught solely to have their fins cut off, and dumped back into the sea. Without their fins, the animal was left to die.

According to WildAid’s report titled “Shark Fin Demand in Thailand,” Thailand is the world’s biggest shark fin exporter, with more than 22,467 tonnes exported from the South-East Asian country between 2012 to 2016.

Most of the shark fins from Thailand were exported to Hong Kong, which also re-exported them to other countries including China, where the dish was invented centuries ago.

Although the consumption in China has declined significantly, by 50 percent to 70 percent since 2011 thanks to proactive campaigns, the popularity of the dish in Thailand has not, the group said.

Some 57 percent of respondents in a recent survey among urban Thai population have consumed shark fin soup in the past year, while 69 percent said they wanted to try out of curiosity.

Shark fins have a reputation for their good taste and are seen as luxury items, but they are in fact virtually tasteless, with most flavour coming from the soup. They are also bleached to a more appealing color.

“It actually tastes the same as a regular fish ball noodle soup. There is nothing special about it,” said Sirachai Arunrugstichai, a freelance photojournalist and marine biologist.

“There are also hardly any sharks left in Thailand. I only found baby sharks in markets these days,” he added.

About half of the Thai respondents were unaware of the cruelty in shark trade, while 85 percent of them did not know about the number of sharks killed each year, the study found.

Shark fin soup is priced between 300 to 4,000 baht (US$9 to US$120) with more than 100 restaurants serving the dish in Bangkok alone, the group said.