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Shark fin soup, conservation, and racism: A Storify of yesterday’s twitter discussion

Accusations of racism and cultural imperialism have long plagued the shark conservation movement. Earlier this week, a second lawsuit was filed in California opposing their shark fin ban. One of the reasons given for the Chinatown Neighborhood Association’s lawsuit was discrimination against citizens of Chinese descent. According to the San Francisco Examiner:

“[Chinatown Neighborhood Association Member Marcus] Lee noted that the law allows consumers to eat shark meat steaks, but not shark fin soup, leading to racial tensions. “How can you save the shark if you ban eating only the fins, but not the shark meat?” Lee asked. “This ruling is not the solution to the problem. In order to save the sharks, you might as well ban the whole shark entirely.” “

An earlier lawsuit against California’s fin ban, filed by the Asian-American Rights Committee of California, also pointed out the cultural significance of shark fin soup. According to the Huffington Post:

 ” “Shark fin soup is an Asian cultural delicacy with origins in the Ming Dynasty. It is a ceremonial centerpiece of traditional Chinese banquets, as well as celebrations of weddings and birthdays of one’s elders,” the committee wrote in its complaint. “

My personal views on this issue are complex. Populations of many species of sharks are declining at alarming rates (which has numerous negative ecological consequences), the single largest driver for these declines is demand for shark fin soup, and this demand primarily comes from Asian cultures. With very few exceptions, conservationists are not racist, and there are very good reasons to campaign for reducing shark fin soup consumption (and reducing shark fishing in general) . There’s a big difference between criticizing something because it’s different from your own culture and criticizing something because it creates negative ecological and economic ripple effects worldwide. However, when conservationists who are primarily Westerners criticize something that is done primarily by non-Westerners, it undeniably creates what politicians call troubling “optics”. In short, I don’t think campaigning to reduce shark fin consumption is racist, but I can understand how some people might.

I asked my twitter followers what they thought of the claim that criticizing shark fin soup is racist, and added some of the best contributions to the excellent discussion that resulted to a Storify. Check it out below, and feel free to continue the discussion in the comments below.