The Search for the Wings of Happiness—No Shark Fin Soup at Wedding Banquets

Translated by Ms. Andrea Gung

A coalition of organizations consisting of several domestic and international animal protection groups, students and chefs, released a startling report that details the devastating impact of shark fin soup consumption at Taiwan wedding banquets. It examines shark consumption at wedding banquets from 76 international hotels in Taiwan. During a press conference on June 16, 2011 in Taipei, The Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) and Humane Society International (HSI) released this comprehensive survey and launched an online campaign titled, “The Search for the Wings of Happiness—No Shark Fin Soup at Wedding Banquets.” A short film, “The Bloody Shark Fin Cuisine” was shown at the press conference as well.

Scientists have estimated that each year, about 26 million to 73 million sharks are being killed globally to meet the demand for shark fins. In Taiwan, approximately 10 thousand couples get married every year. Given that weddings are a popular occasion to serve shark fin soup, we are curious to find out the answers to these questions - “How many sharks are killed each year to supply the wedding banquet market in Taiwan? How much harm have we done to the oceans? ”

According to the study, 71 out of 76 well-known, major international hotels (93.4%) in Taiwan have shark fin soup on their wedding banquet menus. Two of the remaining 5 hotels do not host Chinese-style wedding banquets. Most of the restaurants also offer a deluxe option that incorporates a single slice of large, yet expensive fin in each soup bowl. The cost of having shark fin soup added to the banquet is usually about $30 to $70 per table. The three hotels that do not have the shark fin soup offered on the menu are the two run by the Shangri-La Group Hotels (Taipei Far East Plaza Hotel and Tainan Far East Plaza Hotel) and the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Hotel Inc (W. hotel in Taipei).

The banquet planning staff from the three hotels above state that they do not serve shark fin dishes because of their hotel’s green environment policy. However, if the customers in Taiwan or Hong Kong request shark fin soup, they will still provide that dish. In this regard, EAST asks that there should be no borders for the protection of animal welfare and hopes that all three of the hotels will implement the same policy as the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, which has stopped serving shark fin soup.

The survey concludes that shark fin consumption from wedding banquets at the 71 Taiwanese international hotels is equivalent to the killing of 920,000 to 3.86 million sharks each year (or 9.2 million to 38.6 million sharks in 10 years). This rate of consumption poses a serious threat on marine ecosystems. Ms. Yu-Min Chen, director of EAST, said, “Most of the wedding couples simply took the recommendation from the hotel catering staff when choosing the wedding menu. They don’t always request the shark fin soup and the wedding guests do not necessarily expect it either.”

“Shark fin soup is not really a ‘must have’ item on the wedding menu and most people have the soup without even thinking about it. Thus, EAST hopes that through education and press conferences, they can raise the environmental consciousness of most people in Taiwan. If people take a stand, they will then send a strong message to the wedding banquet catering industry. EAST hopes that these actions will help protect the marine ecosystem and will provide sustainability to the shark populations which have over 400 million years of evolution,” Ms. Chen said.

Iris Ho, from HSI said, “Shark conservation is an urgent international issue. Many governments have started specific actions to protect the sharks and to ban shark finning.”

Ho listed several examples, “Malaysia’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry removed shark fin soup from the official banquet menu in 2007; Palau designated their state-owned waters as the protected areas and they prohibited commercial shark fishing in 2009. In 2010, Hawaii passed legislation that prohibits restaurants or retailers from possessing, trading, selling or distributing the shark fins or any other related products like shark fin soup starting July 1, 2011.”

Ho also cited the strong environmental actions of the United States, “On January 4, 2011 U.S. President Barack Obama signed the latest shark conservation bill. All vessels in U.S. waters are mandated to land sharks at U.S. ports with fins attached to the fish. The U.S. also amended their law on the ban of gill net fishing in public waters. For countries that do not have similar laws and regulations for the protection the sharks, the Secretary of Commerce can put that country on their watch list.”

As a native of Taiwan, Ho urges the Taiwan Government to strengthen its conservation laws and related measures to follow the international conservation trend.

Mr. Jian Fa, Shi the current chairman of the Chinese Gourmet Association, known as the “The King of Taiwan Chef,” also spoke at the press conference. Mr. Shih is trying to persuade people that you can make delicious dishes without using shark fins. “Food is a major part of our life. We can cook good cuisine for the newlywed, the birthday person and their guests, and they can all enjoy their food with a peace of mind, knowing that they have preserved their humanity by protecting the environment. It is no longer just a matter of the taste, smell and the presentation of the food. The cook must take into account if the material and ingredients are humanely and environmental friendly sourced”, the well-known chef said.

Mr. Shih called on restaurants to rethink how food is defined, and to consider the use of humane, environmental and animal welfare-friendly and sustainable ingredients. Shark finning is not only cruel and environmentally unfriendly, but the fish is also polluted with heavy metal contamination, which poses a great health risk.

Also present at the press conference was a group of students at Chung Yuan Christian University who have spent an entire year working with EAST, as part of their “Social Service Course” study, to design and implement a consumer awareness campaign targeting wedding couples . They have called on future nuptial couples who are planning their weddings to participate in this movement and pledge not to serve shark fin soup at their wedding, hence taking concrete actions to protect sharks and the marine environment for the benefit of future generations.

Interested supporters are invited to visit the website http://www.east.org.tw. Upload photos of you and your loved ones to the campaign website, titled “Spread the Wedding without Shark Fins, Forever Happiness”, and then invite at least 20 friends to vote for your online to qualify for the first stage of the drawing. When the participating couples send in their “no shark fin banquet menu," they will be further qualified in the second stage drawing. Prizes include airline tickets, skin care & SPA massage coupons, wedding coupons, and various gift boxes.

◆Attachment:

An Investigation of Shark Fin Consumption at Wedding Banquets Served by Major Five-Stars Hotels across Taiwan
(Investigated and Reported by Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan)

社團法人台灣動物社會研究會 All rights reserved by EAST 立案證號:台內社字第八九〇九四〇〇號 法人登記證號:105證他字第232號 (02)22369735~6 eastfree@east.org.tw 台北市中正區羅斯福路四段162號3樓之4 劃撥帳號:19461051 戶名:社團法人台灣動物社會研究會 網站協力:拾穗者文化