Shark finning is a timely topic

When I mentioned shark fin soup in a recent Five to Find on expensive foods, I knew it was rare and considered a culturally traditional luxury item. But I didn't know how the fins were harvested.

Reader and scuba diver Chris Roncone enlightened me: Harvesters slice off the fins, then dump the sharks back into the ocean. Unable to swim, the sharks drown.

This summer, in a U.S. State Department briefing on wildlife trafficking, the Special Envoy for Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Issues spoke about shark finning, as the process is called. The envoy, Bo Derek (I know, but stay focused), emphasized educating the public. Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, Harrison Ford and Olympic athletes are among those who've agreed to help with public service announcements.

Legally, places serving the soup are not breaking the law; those importing the fin of the 11 or 12 endangered species are. That's why you see it on menus, said Claudia McMurray, assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science.

Australia licenses places that sell fins only from sharks that have been used in their entirety, not finned, Derek said, but the majority of fin isn't gotten that way.

This is just a part of the issue; Derek pointed out that the United States is second only to China as a market for illegal wildlife and wildlife parts. But the shark population has declined significantly of late (some say by 90 percent), and it's clearly a timely topic with the Beijing Olympics coming up. Said Derek, “Unless people just stop eating the soup, I don't think the species has a chance.”