Celebrating AAPI Month by Demanding Change

Addressing the Shark Fin Trade

By Charles Wang, Shark Stewards Advisory Team

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate our rich cultural heritage and contributions. However, it also provides an opportunity to address challenging topics within our communities. Rooted in culinary tradition, the shark fin trade is a particularly problematic practice that has had devastating impacts on shark populations and marine ecosystems. 

As an Asian American and avid scuba diver, I feel a deep connection to both my cultural heritage and the preservation of our planet’s oceans. Growing up in Hong Kong, I remember seeing Shark Fin soup on the menus of many banquet halls and restaurants. Shark fin soup was a luxury delicacy enjoyed by Chinese emperors dating back to the Sung Dynasty. Today, it is often served at special occasions, where it is a symbol of wealth and status.

My love for sharks and marine conservation developed during a dive trip in Kona, Hawaii, where I was lucky enough to study and encounter these majestic creatures up close. During my trip, I was introduced to the Kahu Manō  the “Shark Guardians” of Hawaii who have been protecting the species for over 7 generations. This is where I learned about the catastrophic impact shark finning has had on our environment and motivated me to take action.

The act of shark finning itself is horrifyingly inhumane. Sharks are often caught, their fins sliced off, and the rest of the still-living animal thrown back into the sea to die. Sharks, which are often vilified and misunderstood, play a crucial role in maintaining the health and balance of ocean ecosystems. As apex predators, they are at the top of the food chain and help regulate the populations of various marine species below them. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed annually due to overfishing and the shark fin trade. This steep decline of shark populations has led to the unchecked growth of prey populations, which lead to the overgrazing of vital habitats like seagrass beds and coral reefs. If we continue to deplete shark populations at the current rate, it could lead to the collapse of entire marine ecosystems.

In 2020, I joined Shark Stewards, led by David McGuire, a marine biologist who has dedicated his life to educating the public about protecting our marine habitats. Education is a powerful tool in changing cultural norms and practices. Since 2006, Shark Stewards has led the North American shark fin trade ban movement and making shark finning illegal. Shark fins and fin consumption were made illegal in 14 US states. In 2013, we started focusing on educating communities in the top markets for shark fin: Singapore, Malaysia, and China. By raising awareness about the ecological importance of sharks and the brutal realities of shark finning, we aim to shift public perception and reduce demand for shark fin products. 

Addressing the shark fin trade during AAPI Month is a delicate but necessary conversation, especially with the recent rise in Sinophobia and Anti-Asian sentiment. It is important to acknowledge that not every Chinese person supports the consumption of shark fin soup. In the past decade, there has been a growing majority, especially in the younger generation in China who have spoken out against the shark fin trade. Since 2011, there has been a decline in shark fin consumption in China. However, the trade of shark fins is global and still actively consumed in China, Singapore, Malaysia and by primarily people of Chinese descent throughout the world. This is an issue that transcends cultural boundaries and requires collective action. By educating ourselves and others, we can preserve both our cultural heritage and the health of our oceans.

Banning the shark fin trade is not just about protecting sharks; it is about safeguarding our marine ecosystems and ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come. As an Asian American deeply connected to my roots and passionate about protecting our oceans, I urge our communities to embrace change and lead the way in protecting our oceans. Together, we can honor our heritage while building a more sustainable and compassionate world.

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