A new claim that shark fin cuisineis endangering sharks has divided China's chefs, but failed to put connoisseurs off their favorite dish.
Qu Hao, former chef with the three-star Feng Ze Yuan hotel, said the consumption of shark fin would probably decline after the claims made at the International Shark Conservation Conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
He said previous articles reporting that shark fin contained hydrargyrum which might cause certain conditions, such as male sterility, if consumed in large quantities would contribute to its declining popularity.
However, Niu Yunting, a chef at the state-run Wanshouzhuang Hotel and chairman of the Chinese Shark Fin Cooking Research Society, disagreed.
He said traditional dining habits were difficult to change and he foresaw no decline in the popularity of shark fin.
Prices for shark fin varied from 1,400 yuan (US$175) to 4,000 yuan (US$500) per kilogram and the value increased during the preparation and cooking, which could take two to three days, Niu said.
"In Chinese culture, a banquet with expensive shark fin dishes shows how much a hospitable host respects his or her guests," Niu said.
However, he advocated the "rational and moderate" consumption of shark fin.
"Some wealthy people eat shark fin just to show off. It's an attitude that I cannot abide," Niu said.
Li Weilin, 25, a Cantonese shark fin soup connoisseur, said shark fin was part of the traditional southern Chinese cuisine.
Shark fin was historically believed to be nutritious, however, as time went by, its scarcity had given consumers social status.
"There is an old saying that 'No banquet is complete without a shark fin dish', which stresses the role of shark fin in Chinese cuisine," Li said, adding that tradition demanded that shark fin be served to important guests.
The debate started when Sarah Fowler, co-chair of the World Conservation Union Species Survival Commission's Shark Specialist Group, told the conference on Wednesday that about a third of the 450 shark species were threatened with extinction or were close to being threatened.
A WildAid report said a major reason for the sharp decrease in shark numbers was the soaring demand for shark fin on the international market, especially in China and Southeast Asia.
Fowler warned that if current trends continued, the world's shark populations would be depleted in ten years.
The annual shark fin trade has reached around 10,000 tons and Hong Kong alone imports about 52 percent of the total.
Li Yanliang, deputy general director of the Aquatic Wild Fauna and Flora Administrative Office under the Ministry of Agriculture, said China's fisheries did not specialize in catching sharks.
Shark catches were strictly regulated in accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which lists whale sharks, basking sharks and white sharks, said Li.
China was also amending the National Conservation List of Key Aquatic Wildlife to include some endangered shark species, said Li.
(Xinhua News Agency November 11, 2006)