A Price Myth Debunked: Why Shark Fin Soup In Hong Kong Is Not Expensive Anymore, Or Sharkfinomics

The comments section of yesterday's post on the shark fin protest by Ran Elfassy of Shark Rescue is on fire and well worth checking out.

Yesterday, a visitor to the blog by the name of John Gulliver left a post about talking about the oft percieved exclusivity of Shark Fin Soup due to its high price.


Well here's the shocker. Contrary to popular misconception, shark fin is not expensive anymore, and the reasons for this I have set out in my response to John Gulliver further down this page.

For obvious reasons, a cheaper bowl of shark fin soup is catastrophic for the remaining global shark population. It doesn't take a noble prize economist to work out that as shark fin becomes cheaper, more shark fin will be consumed by more people. This in turn will speed up the vicious cycle hastening their extinction. Is this the beginning of the end?

Before going into the economics of the market price for shark fin, I want to share my research on various shark fin promotions around town that I have seen this year.

Here, in descending order of price, are the various shark fin promotions I found:-

1) A current promotion at the Marco Polo Hotel in Hong Kong, where you get a buffet with all kinds of stuff coated in shark fin for HK$328 (US$42.30) per adult, which is less than half the "upwards of US$100 a bowl" price one often sees quoted around quite a bit. Fancy shark fin jelly anyone?

(Strangely enough, this is the same hotel that recently promised it would no longer sell the highly endangered blue fin tuna. Not sure why the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing at the Marco Polo, but hey.)

2) Going down the scale, here's an unlimited shark fin buffet you could find a few months ago at The Metropark Hotel for HK$238 (US$30.70) per adult. This is less than two thirds the usual clichéd US$100 a bowl price:-


At the bottom end, check out this review from the main Hong Kong restaurant review website Open Rice for a cheap shark fin promotion combo meal including shark fin soup for HK$59 (US$7.61) which you could find in May this year at MX, part of of Maxim's Group. That's less than 8% of the price of that urban myth US$100 a bowl of shark fin soup! Now will people believe me?

The above review translated into English: The latest dinner menu item on offer is a 'shark fin in chicken broth' combo for HK$59, which includes a bowl of rice, a side dish and a cup of tea. The main dish is shark fin soup with half a chicken and real shark fin. What you get really does look like what you see on the promotional leaflet. The soup itself is the main attraction, as it's made of air-dried ham according to the promotional leaflet, but it tastes far worse than what you would get in a proper (ie non fast food) restaurant. The pork tasted bland, but the chicken meat was tender. A good thing was that there wasn't too much MSG. To sum up, a fast food restaurant should always serve cheap food, but serving high-end food such as shark fin with a cheap price tag is actually quite off-putting.

And finally, here's that same cheap shark fin promo at MX, this time in a gushing advertorial in the local Hong Kong daily Wen Wei Po.

A brief translation of the part of the advertorial that refers to the price is as follows:- Cheap price for a superb shark fin soup made with the best ingredients including chicken, air-dried ham. Simmered for hours etc etc...

Now that I have debunked that common myth of the high price of shark fin soup, here's my (slightly re-edited) response to John Gulliver:-

Hi John,
I would just like to set the record straight on some shark fin issues for you.
    1) Shark fin is much cheaper than it once was since the economy turned bad and the bottom fell out of the market. The price of shark fin is heavily tied to the price of oil, as the price of fishing boat fuel is a key overhead for tuna fishing boat operators who are the main culprits in the senseless shark slaughter. Related to this is that some big traders who had been stock-piling shark fin when the price of oil was at an all time high then released masses of the stuff onto the market when the oil price dropped, at the end of last year. This caused a sharp drop in the price of shark fin. The ensuing glut of shark fin in the market then caused it's price to slide further. Add to that all the bankers and high end clients stopped ordering shark fin at their company functions because of the bad economy, so the price, which had already been low, then went into freefall. I know this from talking to different vendors, most of whom are actually nice people, though some can be a bit thick-skinned and in denial. The price of shark fin is recovering somewhat, but it's still a lot cheaper than it was in 2007, early 2008. The consequence of all of this is that now shark fin is more accessible than ever to the man on the street. Even local fast food chain 'Maxim's' have been known to run cheap shark fin promotions. I don't have the figures on hand right now, but I can certainly get them for next time.
    2) Being well off does not equate being well educated anywhere, least of all in the 'new' China.
    3) I agree with you that targeting various groups with education on marine ecology is a good thing, but there is also room for protest at grass roots level too. You might call it a multi-pronged approach. That is what Hong Kong Shark Foundation (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=52859971024) is all about. Also please bear in mind that most people in Hong Kong couldn't give a monkey's about environmental degradation in their own back yard, much less so about the global marine environment. But that's changing slowly - too slowly in fact. So causing noise, any noise, is good right now, especially if it's picked up in the local press, which it was here: ( http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/template/apple/art_main.php?iss_id=2009081... )
    4) Chinese do not eat shark fin soup because of any alleged health benefits. There are none, they know that, and that's not what it's all about for them. It's purely a 'face' dish to prove that they are rich.
    5) No one attacked anyone yesterday. The day's action passed off peacefully. Anyway Ran would have been unable to do anything anyway even if someone had tried to assault him, as his hands were completely constricted at his sides by his wonderful silver shark costume that has no sleeves, (sharks have no arms you see!) He was a very non-threatening shark, you understand! The beauty of yesterday's protest was to get a modest amount of publicity on the issue to make more people sit up and take notice. It was not targeting the vendors per se.

I hope this makes sense to you.

All the best,

And finally, here's one last zen-like bonus image from yesterday's Shark Rescue protest for all you Ran Elfassy fans out there!

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011