July 2nd, 2008
11:37 AM ET

Shark Fin Soup – altering an ecosystem

Editor’s note: CNN’s award-winning Planet in Peril returns this year to examine the conflict between growing populations and natural resources. Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of this worldwide battle. Ling has been a co-host of The View, correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show, National Geographic and Channel One. She filed this blog from Taiwan on how shark-finning operations that have helped deplete the oceans of more than 90 percent of shark species.

Lisa Ling
AC360° special correspondent

Arrived in Taipei after flying 13 hours from LA. After looking for lost luggage and equipment–which is standard these days–we hopped into a car for a 4-hour drive to the south.

I have spent a fair amount of time in Taiwan as my mother is from here. It's one of my favorite countries to visit primarily because the food is so excitingly exotic and delicious.

The irony is that we are here to report on the impact that the overfishing of sharks is having on the overall shark population and how it's affecting the ocean's ecosystem. Shark meat and shark skin are used for food and textiles, but the most desirable part of a shark is its fins. Shark Fin Soup is one of the great delicacies in Asia–particularly China. It symbolizes wealth and prosperity. One is not considered a good host if he/she omits Shark Fin Soup from a celebratory dinner.

As a Chinese American, I grew up eating shark fin soup on special occasions. Like many people, I had no idea that shark finning was such a devastating procedure. The fins are 1/20 of the entire shark, yet they are being stripped off the animals leaving the sharks to sink to the ocean floor and die horribly slow torturous deaths.

Now, with Asia's rapid economic rise, shark fins are being consumed not just for special occasions, but are becoming commonplace.

While en route to southern Taiwan today, I asked to stop for my favorite snack: fish ball dumplings. Yes, I love a fish ball.

In Taiwan, the gas stations have fabulous foodcourts that sell every kind of dumpling imaginable. Three of my team ordered an assortment of dumplings and sure enough, a couple happened to be shark fin. The total for about 10 dumplings was about $7.

Filed under: Lisa Ling • Planet in Peril • T1
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Jan from Wood Dale, IL

    I've admired your various human interest reports in the past. I'm glad you're a part of the PIP2 team now, and look forward to your reports.

    Today I received a brochure from the Chicago Shedd Aquarium which discusses sustainable seafood and the five primary environmental concerns related to commercial fisheries. It also included a wallet card guide to make choices for healthy oceans. It lists Best Choices, Good Alternatives, and seafood to Avoid. I was surprised that some of the seafood we have enjoyed in the past was on the Avoid list, but now we can make better choices in the future.

    But I do have to ask, is a fish ball from a male fish?

    July 2, 2008 at 8:31 pm |
  2. Megan Dresslar

    Hi Lisa,
    Welcome aboard! I remember that you were so amazing reporter one channel with Anderson Cooper. Nice have you be here to join Planet in Peril! I am so scared of sharks, I never have eaten Fin Shark soup before. That is so amazing to watch sharks, It is so dangerous. I can't wait see you, Anderson, and Dr. Gupta on program Planet in Peril next fall! you are great person I saw!
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    July 2, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  3. Dina

    As a Chinese-American, I also grew up eating shark fin soup. To this day, I continue to see shark fin at local markets and wonder how they were able to get so much. Hopefully once your report is aired, more people will understand this crisis. Thanks for the update – I look forward to learning more throughout the year!

    July 2, 2008 at 7:24 pm |
  4. Genevieve M, TX


    My mother is also from Taiwan (Tainan), and I, too, love going back to visit relatives whenever I have time. 🙂

    I used to eat shark fin soup when I was a child, but sometime in my teens, I stopped eating it. It was not because I felt it was wrong, but I no longer enjoyed the taste. I will still eat fish, just not not shark fin.

    Dumplings are delicious (YUM)! I can make them (been doing it since I was little), but of course, it is easier to buy them. The best ones are from the the "night market" vendors!

    I will be looking forward to your PIP report on this subject.

    July 2, 2008 at 5:49 pm |
  5. Diane N.

    I love sharks. No not to eat. I think they are beautiful creatures. I wonder that in knowing this can you still eat shark fin soup? I was once given a sample of shark meat at a grocery store, hesitant I took it mortified I couldn't even chew after the first initial bite I spit it out. This is a real travesty and there needs to be regulation with severely stiff penalties. If they want shark fin then farm them and also utilize the whole fish. Or hey just find something else to eat. The culture of the orient and their martial art always talk of discipline, this is one instance where it's vital to use that so called discipline. Stop raping the ocean.

    July 2, 2008 at 5:20 pm |
  6. Wired

    Keep reporting on these types of stories Anderson ! Your stories about the Earth in peril and the killing of beautiful wildlife is CRUCIAL to our planets future. Just as Lou Dobbs has made illegal immigration his cause, YOU need to make this your cause ! Do it for us and our planet ! You have such a tremendous media tool. Use it !

    July 2, 2008 at 4:46 pm |
  7. Jolene

    Lisa: Thanks for showing us the different angles of this distressing story and sharing your personal thoughts. With the world population ever increasing, I think we will have similar issues with other food sources around the world. I'm not sure what the answer is. I hope that your investigation helps find one that benefits us all. Good Luck!

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    July 2, 2008 at 4:29 pm |
  8. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Glad to see you blog here. Good work as always. I look forward to the Planet in Peril 2. Keep doing what you do. It's needed in this world.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    July 2, 2008 at 3:44 pm |
  9. Improbus

    What are they going to eat when the sharks are all gone? People, as a whole, have only a fleeting knowledge of rationality.

    July 2, 2008 at 2:47 pm |
  10. Avni

    Hi Lisa! I used to watch you and Anderson on Channel One when I was in middle school!!! I'm looking forward to your report.

    July 2, 2008 at 2:35 pm |
  11. Annie

    Yes, it is an awful situation. But think about it, so now we have to stop eating beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc.......its the same brutality.

    July 2, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  12. Lilibeth

    Lisa, I had no idea how brutal shark-finning is and its damaging effect on the species. I hope that your report will give knowledge to people all over the world about this destructive practice and help us think about getting food sources that don’t deplete natural resources.

    Glad to see that you’re part of the Planet in Peril team…I look forward to all of your reports.

    Edmonds, Washington

    July 2, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  13. Mike in NYC

    This is an outrage. I like sharks.

    July 2, 2008 at 1:10 pm |
  14. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    I use a lot of Natural remedies but I think that what they are doing with these sharks is deplorable.

    They cut off the fins and through the sharks back! If you are going to eat shark steaks then take the fin but don't over poach them.

    I personally don't eat Shark (not kosher). The Cherokee people use ALL of the parts that they take from the animal and don't over kill more than they need right then. This is a very sad thing that these people are doing to the ecosystem.

    Money drives them to do it and they need to be educated as to what the ultimate damage that is being done is compared to the monetary benefit they get in the short run.

    July 2, 2008 at 1:04 pm |
  15. GF, Los Angeles

    It's hard not to eat Shark Fin soup when cuturally that was part of the diet – celabratory occasion or not. My extended family, who came here from Hong Kong, still order it in restaurants. I've even seen cans of Shark Fin soup sold at Chinese grocery stores. Ignorance is a huge problem because when I try to explain to my mother the devastating affects of eating this soup, she just does not get it. Same with explaining how dumping into the ocean or rivers does not mean it will "go away". It will require a lot of education to show before and after of how the planet is in a sense dying. Just talking about it will fall on deaf ears – believe me – I tried.

    July 2, 2008 at 12:52 pm |
  16. Susan


    I watched a program in which the nets were pulled up and one by one they just cut the fins off the sharks and threw the bodies back into the water. Since a shark has to keep moving to stay alive without its fins it just as you stated sinks to the bottom and dies. What a waste of a must needed giant of our aquatic ecosystem. I had a chance to have shark fin soup once, but turned it down because of this very practice.

    Keep up your great comments !!!

    July 2, 2008 at 12:52 pm |
  17. Michelle

    Thanks for the post Lisa. I am so glad you are participating
    in PIP 2 . I have always enjoyed your reporting. I hope will
    we see some of your reports soon.

    July 2, 2008 at 12:15 pm |
  18. Cindy

    Great to finally get a blog post from you on the PIP2 reports. Hope to hear more from you.

    I have family members by marriage who are from Asia and the surrounding areas. So they also love shark fin soup and other delicacies that they eat there. I have to say that I have tried it but it's not my cup of tea!!

    I think that something definitely needs to be done to stop so much killing of these sharks. Pretty soon these sharks are going to be near extinction and then what will they do? They need to put a cap on how many can be killed a year to stop that from happening before it is too late!

    IMO it is extremely cruel to cut off the sharks fin and let it sink to the bottom to die. Why not just kill the shark before cutting the fin off to ease the suffering?


    July 2, 2008 at 11:48 am |