The state of New York just took a big bite out of shark fin trafficking.
In a historic legal victory, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) managed to force Brooklyn-based Long Quan Seafood Corp. into a guilty plea for felony commercialization of wildlife and to pay a $10,000 fine for selling shark fins, a practice which has been illegal in the Empire state for over a year.
"This is the first successful prosecution under a New York State law that took effect last July banning the possession, sale, and distribution of most species of shark fins in New York State," Acting DEC Commissioner Marc Gerstman said in a statement. "Not only is the practice of finning a shark inhumane, but it negatively impacts the natural balance of the oceanic ecosystem. We will not tolerate shark fin trafficking in New York State."
Shark fins are worth a lot of money. Shark meat is not. As a result, the only economically viable way to collect shark fins is to skin the shark alive and throw it back into the water, where it can no longer swim and will either bleed to death or get eaten alive by other marine life.
This happens to about 100 million sharks per year.
READ MORE: Shark Fin is Going Extinct
Meanwhile, their fins are dried and shipped to markets around the world, fetching upwards of $300 per pound, eventually ending up on lavish banquet tables at business meetings and weddings. But the value of sharks fins is not just financial, it's cultural as well.
In Chinese culture, shark fins are a huge status symbol, so much so that if the groom's family does not pay for shark fin soup on the table, he is basically considered a huge loser by his community. Not a good way start a marriage.
Long Quan Seafood Corp. was busted after the DEC was alerted to a huge shipment of dried shark fins headed from JFK Airport to a business in Brooklyn. When the authorities intercepted the shipment from Hong Kong, which Long Quan subsequently accepted, they confiscated over 700 pounds of hammerhead, grey sharpnose, broadfin, and blacktip reef shark fins.
Despite the fins being used mostly for soup, none of the flavour of shark fin soup actually comes from shark. The savoury broth is made with chicken, Chinese ham, aromatics and wine. The fins are essentially used for their chewy, stringy, tasteless texture—and their baller reputation.
The brutality of shark fishing has led the Chinese government to stop serving fin soup altogether at state banquets. And basketball superstar Yao Ming filmed a dramatic PSA in 2011 called "Say No to Shark Fin Soup."
Chefs are also looking for alternatives. Former French Laundry chef de cuisine Corey Lee and C.P. Kelco food scientists created faux-fin by pumping artificial thickeners like hydrocolloids into the broth to simulate the gooey texture of shark fin soup. Chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay, who called shark finning the "worst act of animal cruelty" he'd ever seen, obviously used a more sensational method of addressing the problem when he confronted shark gangsters who doused him in gasoline and threatened him in Costa Rica.
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, Chinatown vendors are adapting to the new law by using sea cucumber (a scary marine creature, not a cucumber) and crystallized bird saliva as substitutes to the gelatinous status symbol.