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Sharks

I really like fish. Not only am I keen eater of fish but I used to keep them. Yes, despite being a student and not exactly on the most money I kept a flock of danios. I like fish in every sense.

So… I have watched with attention and vituperation evenly balanced C4′s season on fishing. Oh what a mess this world is! No, I don’t like farmed salmon (bland) and yes I only buy line-tuna and no I am far from ideal but I do my bit and perhaps more to the point I understand my bit. I like fish whether it pootles in my tank or sizzles on my griddle.

In short we have a mess. We have fishermen chucking back the catch they aren’t allowed to land and that’s the catch I want to eat*. The village I live in has a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker but not a fishmonger and this is an enormous shame for I would like to go beyond the salmon, tuna and cod. Yes, I would. And no I don’t mean invertebrates.

I will not eat invertebrates. I saw Heston Blumenthal cook a fucking massive crab and it looked like… Well, I dunno but I had watched “Starship Troopers” a bit earlier so you can imagine my ‘mares that night. I know, I know… lots of people think crab is very nice to eat and I am irrational to think, “You chuck rocks at it and run away screaming like a girl” but fuck me sideways that lit my fight and flight wires – it was a total monster. It was fucking hideous. It was waking-up drenched in sweat and screaming, “But No Mummy, No!” hideous. I don’t do prawns either. The woodlice of the seas are the prawns. I have an A-level (Grade A) in biology so I have dissected things you people wouldn’t believe (and things I didn’t duck fast enough to avoid – that is what happens when teacher is out of the room – heart fight!).

Now we get to a tricky issue. I have swum with sharks. Yeah, right, whatever but those nurses were 2.5m long which is a hell of a fish in anyone’s currency. The thing is I’m not brave. Quite literally I was more likely to be hit by the Subway delivery truck than eaten by one of those magnificent beasts. And they are magnificent – I am a fish fancier recall. To swim in their company was just magic. They have the functional elegance only shared by Molly from Neuromancer and fighter planes. They have a stark working beauty rather than a voluptuous one.

They look like fighters – they look like F-16s. They look like Vipers. My wife said they were beautiful apart from the mouth. OK, but that is the business end and when that M-61 Vulcan spins-up then beauty can take a hike for it’s time for the beast. I’d prefer a Rheinmetall-Mauser BK-27 but that’s just me. 20mm is for gays and Americans! You also have the issue of spin-up time for a Gatling…

Has any ‘plane ever wanted it’s intake painted with the shark mouth more than the Viper though?

So the crumple-faced Jockulent swear-chef is dispatched to investigate the shark-fin trade. And it stinks. Don’t get me wrong. I tend to think Gordon Ramsey is a git but on this he was right. He was right because “finning” is obscene. This is what they do. They catch the shark, cut it’s fins off and chuck it back in the sea, usually still alive. The rest of it is worthless. Well, shark ain’t great eating (my brother used to live in Japan where they eat any shit out of the briny – he didn’t much like whale either) so presumably shark fin soup is delicious? Indeed the only part of the fish worth the candle? Er… no. It isn’t. It’s fish-stock and rather bland. In Taiwan or London it will cost you maybe 80 quid a bowl but it is the Emperor’s New Clothes really. I can understand that. The one time I had caviar it was nothing to write home about apart from it being caviar (a party held by a guy from one of the ex-Sov ‘stans – he had boatloads of the stuff – he also did a rather good Freddie Mercury impersonation and upset a direct descendent of Søren Kierkegaard by shafting his moll – I use the term advisedly because he was so Organitsaya** it’s true – up against the adjoining wall with a vigour that belied his gammy leg) at the most unholy of hours.

We were always at war with Eurasia.

So shark fin soup is nothing to write home about but it has a cachet so people get into boats and horribly kill noble beasts for it. Now don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be taught proper game fishing but only if, when I landed a tuna or a marlin, it was all eaten. Life and death are not games which is why we have games as well as life. The idea of finning such a creature and chucking it back to die is as repugnant to me as the idea of de-winging an F-16. A fish without fins is a ‘plane without wings – obscene. I am not saying such magnificent (though they are – you will never see Nick happier than in an aquarium other than at an aerospace museum running my paw over the flanks of a Sea Vixen in a manner that is frankly pornographic) creatures should not be killed but it is wrong to kill them so easily and for so little. That is dead wrong. There is no absolute moral argument from me (I like a sirloin for example) apart from the argument that beauty matters and it’s casual destruction to make over-priced and bland soup is an abomination.

It is time people got moral over this. It matters. An enormous part of what makes us human and gives us the right to lord it over the other critters is the capacity to refrain from arbitrary cruelty. I certainly don’t favour banning shark fin soup. I’m not that kinda guy and I also know that if it’s 80-quid a bowl now banning it would rocket both price and desire. Our Chinese chums ended foot-binding. They can end finning. They can do that for the same reason. Shark fin soup is high end and so are bound feet until you look at either naked and then they are foul. The soup is bland, the feet look dainty in silk slippers but bared they are horrendous. Stripped bare they are vile, so is the soup.

So enough cruelty to fish already! It is pointless evil.

*TESCO et al don’t do catch of the day. They love farmed fish because they can control the supply. That makes good business sense in terms of the logistics.
**His Dad owned a gold mine.

19 Comments

  1. Lynne says:

    I keep koi carp. I can sit and watch them swimming around for hours. And they hand feed. Roll on warmer temperatures because it’s too cold to feed them right now.

  2. Bill Sticker says:

    You won’t catch me having sharks fin soup either. I saw the long line slaughter back in the early 90′s when I hunted sharks. It’s mechanical, bloody and wasteful. Any Chinese restaurant that has it on the menu has me out of my seat and walking.

  3. dfwmtx says:

    I hate having to agree with the animal rights folks on that one. Once you side with them on one issue, they try to convince you that you should side with them on other issues. Just because shark finning is cruel doesn’t mean all fishing is cruel and unnecassary, nor that I should give up eating meat and go vegan. Granted, the shark is beautiful in its own deadly way, and I have respect for the intelligence of octopi and cephalopods. But there’s lots of fish in the sea, and plenty of them are dumb….and quite tasty.

  4. JuliaM says:

    The ‘Guardian’ had an article on eating more freshwater fish today (and what’s a pike but a freshwater shark? Or barracuda?). Judging from the reaction of some commenters, you’d think the author had suggested they kill and eat their firstborn…

    But yes, sharkfinning is a wasteful abomination.

  5. Rob Fisher says:

    I have a somewhat different take on this Channel 4 fish business, from the bit I saw about farmed salmon.

    I don’t like the lecturing, hectoring and lobbying they are doing. I don’t agree that throwing back dead fish is necessarily wasteful: surely the organic matter ends up as new fish eventually.

    As for animal cruelty: I don’t like it, I try not to take part in it, but I also like my meat. And I don’t like doing violence to humans to help animals, if I can help it. So legislating against shark-finning doesn’t sound right either.

  6. Bod says:

    My take on the issue is Chinese in some respects – if its back faces heaven, it’s valid on the menu.

    However, finning (even if something in the ocean will get the benefit of the shark chum) is just downright wasteful, and that’s where I have the problem. Sure, if you have a market that makes it economically viable to harvest a tiny proportion of a food resource and throw the rest out as trash, it satisfies the ‘Economic Man’ in me, but I can’t help thinking something else couldn’t be done with the rest. Even if it’s as dog food.

    Maybe it’s an extension of the ‘Clean Plate Club’ mentality that I was brought up with, but you eats what you takes, and you takes no more than you need. Even the Indians of the Great Plains didn’t use 100% of the bison when they slaughtered it, but they came pretty close to it, and I’d feel a damned sight better about harvesting shark for its shitty tasting, but costly delicacies if the rest of the creature wasn’t ‘wasted’.

  7. Paul H says:

    Totally agreed Nick. In my former life as a divemaster in the Bahamas, I had the privilage of seeing nurse sharks, bull sharks and reef sharks aplenty, and you’re right, they are magnificent creatures. Many who dived with me and were lucky to see one in real life for the first time told me afterwords that it had been the best dive they had ever been on.

    As much as it pains me to agree with the ecoloons, on this issue they are right. To deliberately wipe out such a beautiful animals for their fins and worse, to put the still live finless bodies back in the sea to slowly sink to the bottom to be eaten by the crabs takes a harder heart than I have. And I hunt!

  8. Ian F4 says:

    “They have the functional elegance only shared by Molly from Neuromancer and fighter planes. They have a stark working beauty rather than a voluptuous one.”

    I put sharks with cats, hawks and spiders, creatures that represent the pinnacle of the hunter species in each broad category. The beauty of deadliness, the attitude that everything else is prey, exactly what matches a fighter plane.

  9. Schrodinger's Dog says:

    Nick,

    Another interesting piece. Thanks.

    I love meat and fish, but feel a bit ambivalent about eating them; after all, I could subsist perfectly well on a meat-free diet. So I salve my conscience by doing so in a way which is as efficient as possible: i.e., very little goes to waste. For example, a while ago I bought about four pounds of bargain chicken breasts from a local supermarket. The breast bones were still on them – that’s why they were so cheap – and, by the time I had removed them, I had three pounds of boneless chicken breasts and about a pound of bones and other scraps. Rather than simply discard the latter, I boiled them up and made an absolutely delicious chicken stock. Better yet, almost nothing went to waste.

    I suspect you – and Bod in the comments – feel the same way, judging by your references to fighter aircraft and sharks: after all, both are designed to operate as efficiently as possible in their respective environments. By this definition, shark finning is an abomination. Not only is it cruel – throwing a still alive but definned shark back into the water – it is also terribly wasteful, as most of the animal is discarded.

    However, technology – specifically genetics – might offer an answer. Given our rapidly expanding understanding of the subject, it might soon be possible to grow just shark fins in solution; that way everyone is happy. Diners in gourmet restaurants in Taipei and London get their bowls of shark fin soup, while some poor shark is not simply thrown back into the water to die a painful death after having had its fins cut off. Indeed, were the technology prove to be that much more efficient, cultivating shark fins could put the shark hunters out of business.

    For those of us of a right-wing persuasion what could be better? A high-tech, free market solution provides those who want it with shark fin soup, while reducing animal cruelty, without resorting to government-mandated prohibitions of one kind or another.

  10. Rob Fisher says:

    A lot of talk about waste here. But surely when you throw away a dead animal it ends up as food for something else. Doesn’t it?

  11. NickM says:

    Rob,
    I read your bit and for once I thought Hugh Fearnley-Shittingstall was actually pretty much right. Salmon farming is / can be environmentally damaging and it’s products are generally poor. Yes, that’s Nick what said that. Nick who would “rather eat shit in the trees” (one of me Gran’s) than Duchy Originals.

    Generally,
    Yes, it is the waste that gets more than anything. That, and, I mentioned this – indeed I wouldn’t have even blogged this unless Ramsey actually ate the stuff – he did and called it bland. An ideal solution would be for people to realise this and just stop wasting 80 quid a throw on very dull soup made in a horrible way. It shouldn’t be banned but it should just stop. Frankly the shark’s fin is the soup stone. You go to a high end Chinese restaurant (as Ramsey did) and see it being made… Well, the chef put a lot into the stock for it. A class act all round. If it is a delicacy it has feck all to do with the fin. That was a mighty fine fish stock before it came near a shark fin.

    Paul H,
    “In my former life as a divemaster in the Bahamas” – it’s a tough life innit! Good on ya though!

  12. Rob Fisher says:

    I understand you Nick. It’s a shame that for most people not liking something is immediately followed by calls for legislation. If H-FW was simply trying to persuade me, I wouldn’t be as riled by him.

  13. Bod says:

    Well, when I pay for something with a $20 bill, and I get change, I don’t throw the change in the street. If I do ‘give it away’ as a targetted gesture, I put it where I feel it will do some good – I donate it where I choose. Or I keep the residue and use it for something else.

    That’s the extent to which throwing 99% of a shark back in the water is ‘wasteful’.

    Perhaps a better way of putting it as homo economicus is that from a resource usage *for the benefit of mankind*, it’s probably suboptimal. Maybe all the shark gets eaten by another shark that gets caught next week. Or maybe a bunch of holothurians on the seafloor end up with a free lunch. Most of us wouldn’t go out of our way to harvest sea cucumbers for food, so some of the energy/effort/cost of hunting that shark hasn’t benefitted me/society.

    On the other hand, I don’t demand that we have no ‘right’ to hunt shark unless we can find some way to use its swim bladder, rectum and eyes, although I’d grant that there’s something on a Japanese menu somewhere that’d be fine with two out of three of those items – it’s all a matter of presentation.

  14. Bod says:

    OK – two things.

    1 – I’m an idiot. Sharks don’t have swim bladders.

    2 – Just to over-egg the pudding, my objection to harvesting of sharks in this way is not that they’re cuddly, majestic, awesome or whatever – it’s that I’m not convinced that we’re anywhere near optimizing the activity. I don’t care if it tastes like Linsdey Lohan’s gusset, or a fine chateaubriand. It’s ‘irresponsible’ in the same way that it’s irresponsible to keep the tap running if you don’t need to.

    I think that whenever “people like us” ™ approach tragedies of the commons we need to be (a) rational in our recognition of it and (b) be seen to have a good counter to people who accuse us of neglecting it.

    Whether we like it or not, ther are any number of natural resources that the public sees as being ‘finite and exhaustable’ who won’t immediately grok that the real-world response to scarcity is that the value of that resource will simply rise. And absent some kind of Libertarian Evangelical Outreach, lots of people will never ‘get it’.

  15. NickM says:

    Well, Bod, yes.

    Clearly any sort of asset in decline is in decline. High prices shall be paid if it is in anyway useful. Shark fins are not so that is both a market fail and a market chance. because they are dull.

    As to Japanese menus… ask my brother. The Japanese would eat things you wouldn’t believe. That is why the fuckers deserved Little Boy. They eat weird shit and raped their way across China. 15kts of utter fury – of mass made energy – it was only a few grammes. Two billion dollars – back then that was a lot of money, They fucking deserved it.

    Enola Gay and all that…

  16. Rob Fisher says:

    Bod: I think a good response is to suggest ways of solving this with property rights. I reckon with the right technology it will be possible to own a shoal of fish, or a particular family of sharks. Or if the range of the animal isn’t too great, just own the area of the sea it swims in.

    Same thing on Bruce Parry’s arctic. In Greenland, hunters complained of quotas. “Scientists” said the numbers of various species were too low so there had to be quotas. But why not a market in polar bear hunting rights?

    Nick: shark fins aren’t a market failure. The market is reflecting people’s preferences. You’re asserting that people’s preferences are wrong, which is fine. Now: how to persuade them?

  17. NickM says:

    Rob,
    Entirely my point. 80 quid for piss-poor soup.

  18. mike says:

    “…beauty matters and it’s casual destruction to make over-priced and bland soup is an abomination.”

    Absolutely. I have held this same sentiment about shark finning for a long time now. I ate it once in Arnhem (of all places) and immediately felt like a bastard. And then I felt sick after my mate pointed out that it looked like a bowl of semen. It did.

    But I think there’s a broader point here – the Chinese (and Japanese) have, what to me, seems like a perverted attitude toward consuming flesh: their attitude toward eating other animals reminds me of Ian’s “gay hobbit porn” thing – a sort of extreme example of a generalized interest in unusual kinds of food but particularly meat.

    Just up the road from where I live there is an actual crocodile farm. Much of their business comes from supplying croc meat for weddings and the like. In the next county north of me, there is even a late-night-only (i.e. they only open after 2am) turtle & tortoise restaurant and just down the road from that a turkey-rice joint. These places have queues of people fifty to hundred strong waiting for them to open – on a fucking weeknight!

  19. freedom says:

    “80 quid for piss-poor soup”

    However such fins are acquired, and whatever the moral issues, it’s just another way of separating the wealthy-but-no-brains from their money and re-distributing it to others. I don’t agree with any of it as I am a veggie, but if the soup-slurpers think they are briefly in heaven but have less cash when they hurry to the bog then I am in favour.

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