The most expensive bowl of soup I have ever had in my life was a $15 bowl of ramen in the NYC restaurant Ippudo. And this was no ordinary “ramen” you would eat at home as a cash-strapped college student. This was an authentic bowl nuanced with so many rich and hearty flavors of Japanese cuisine.

Little did I know that $15 soup was  considered “cheap” compared to other soups that sell for at least $100 a bowl. One such soup is shark fin soup, which is traditionally served in Chinese cuisine during  special occasions.  One is apt to eat this delicacy, not so much for its taste, but more for the gelatinous texture of its shark fins harvested from the world’s oceans.

The ongoing slashing of shark fins from live sharks (only for the sharks to be tossed back into the water and left to die) is not the only controversial aspect of shark fin collection.  What one eats in that $100 bowl could be shark fin that has come from threatened or endangered sharks.  Scientists from Stony Brook University and the Field Museum in Chicago, with support from the Pew Environment Group,  have used DNA barcoding to identify the species of sharks served in shark fin soups sold in major U.S. cities.  According to their studies, several at-risk shark species have been identified in these soups, including the scalloped hammerhead, which is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

DNA barcoding is extremely useful in the identification of shark species used in soups because the processing of fins makes it difficult to distinguish species through traditional taxonomic classification. By the time shark fins are in broth, they have been dried, chemically treated and cut into pieces.  After the fins are cooked, there is just enough DNA extracted to generate a DNA barcode, a DNA sequence unique to each individual species.

The continual harvesting of shark fins endangers the livelihood of shark species that are pertinent to the ocean’s ecosystems.  And sharks are particularly prone to over-exploitation as they are slowly reproducing creatures. Sharks must be at least in their teens or twenties to be able to reproduce and they can only a give birth to a few pups in their lifetime.

Despite the scientific facts, consistent laws and regulations need to be enforced in order to prompt effective change. According to the U.S. it is legal to use all the shark species found in these soups because none of these species are on the United States Endangered Species List. Neither are they protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  And although it is illegal for fishers in the U.S. to cut fins off live sharks and then toss them back into sea, it is legal for the fishers to import fins from countries that may have less restrictions.

So where does that leave us? What can we do to help fix this? Scientists can help by carrying out more studies that expose shark exploitation and more fervently demonstrate the importance of shark species in our ecosystems. Some of us in politics can help generate uniform and more stringent policies that help protect shark species.  For the rest of us, we have a significant opportunity to increase the awareness of this problem by educating our friends and family. The last and certainly not least thing we can do is something quite simple.  We can refuse to eat in restaurants that serve this soup and certainly we can refuse to eat the soup itself.  Plus, with that money, we can each eat at least 6 yummy bowls of ramen.


For more information please go to:

Your Pricey Shark Fin Soup May Also Include Endangered Species

New DNA Study Reveals Fins of Endangered Shark in U.S. Soups

In the Soup, a Dash of Biodiversity