Hanum, not her real name, had the table set for the family feast to celebrate Chinese New Year.
“Shark fin soup is a delicacy for Chinese New Year and other special occasions,” explained the 80-year-old after her return from a Chinese New Year’s Eve prayer.
“The soup will give you long life, because it is very healthy for you and Chinese people love things that are good for them.”
The traditional soup has been at the center of a global controversy for several reasons, including the practice of finning sharks that involves dragging them onto a boat to cut their fins off and throwing the rest back to the ocean. Without fins, the sharks just die.
There are more than 400 shark species, but their populations around the world are in rapid decline, as it takes many years for them to mature and produce, making them vulnerable to over-exploitation.
While Indonesia’s shark production has decreased by 28 percent between 2000 and 2014, the country still contributes 16.8 percent to the world catch of sharks, according to government data presented at a recent open discussion about taking shark fin off the menu, organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Jakarta.
Shark finning.(WWF Indonesia/Wahyu Teguh)
Based on a WWF-Indonesia survey, shark fin consumption at Jakarta restaurants has shown a 20.32 percent decline to 12,622 kg a year from 15,840 kg in 2014,” said WWF Indonesia’s Sunda-Banda seascapes and fisheries leader Imam Musthofa.
Chefs, hotel owners, businesspeople and government officials attended the discussion, which focused on the hospitality and food industry.
At the discussion, WWF encouraged guests to join some 18,000 hotels belonging to international chains that have already banned the use of shark.
“International hotel chains have to understand the serious threat the consumption of shark fins poses to the marine ecosystem. There is still much work to be done. Now we invite all parties in the food service sector that have not taken similar action to join this global movement,” said Andy Cornish, the leader of leader WWF International’s shark and ray initiative.
Pamela Ranting, who is a part of the shark conservation group Scuba Indonesia, said 70 percent of shark fishing in Indonesia occurred by catch. “This means they get caught up in tuna nets, so the government needs to stop the 30 percent from shark finning, then look at shark fishing,” she said in the discussion.
Bloody reality: Fisherman holds dorsal fin cut from scalloped hammerhead shark caught on longline.(WWF/Jeff Rotman)
Culture and culinary expert from the Association of Indonesian Chinese Peranakan, Aji “Chen” Bromokusumo, said the meaning of shark fin in the soup represented three elements — land, air and water — so other fish could be used to serve the same purpose.
“Shark fin is not a necessity at all as a token of gratitude,” he said.
As the soup’s price has increased drastically, the tradition of eating shark fin soup has slowly vanished from many Indonesian middle-class dining tables.
“The soup is very expensive now, and there used to be a lot more shark fin soup, but it is very difficult to find anyone selling shark fin soup now,” Hanum says.
“I know that sharks are endangered, and that is probably why we cannot find the soup so easily anymore.”
A shark fin vendor in Glodok, West Jakarta, said he did not know where the shark was caught.
“I receive the fin already treated,” said the vendor, who declined to be named.
WWF’s #SOSharks campaign aims to increase people’s awareness of the shark finning practice. The campaign is seen as crucial to effect change.
“The value of sustainability has been started globally, and we also have to join in, making this a national movement that involves all business players,” business leader and champion of the #SOSharks campaign, Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, said.
This piece was published with the Jakarta Post