Return to Tanjung Luar

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So I went back to Tanjung Luar today and thought about the reasons why people eventually get off eating shark fin soup, hoping, more than ever, that the demand would come to an end as it seems more consequential now. These fishermen, butchers and traders in the shark finning industry in Lombok have never even tasted shark fin soup before…

Reasons why people get off shark fin soup:

1)      It is cruel to forcefully take the fin off sharks while they are still alive and throw the rest of the shark back in the ocean to drown to death, in some countries.

2)      If you love your seafood, you want the apex predators of the sharks to maintain the marine ecosystems so your favourite seafood won’t get wiped out.

3)      You want your future generations to still be able to see sharks alive in the oceans.

4)      You have seen the beauty of sharks before while diving already and know that you want sharks alive than dead.

5)      It is not sustainable as the demand for shark fin soup goes up and overfishing results in depletion of several species of sharks especially since sharks take a long time to reach sexual maturity and birth few pups each time.

6)      There is no taste to shark fin, all the taste comes from the broth it is cooked in.

7)      The high level of mercury in the sharks as a result of being so high up the food chain means you are slowly poisoning yourself when you choose to eat shark fin soup

Being back at Tanjung Luar after 3 months, I see the same traders and fishermen faces, the same butchers that cut up the precious marine life brought in to the market, without regard for sustainability. Nothing much has changed yet so much had changed. This time, I saw heaps more baby sharks, thresher sharks and hammerhead shark. As the first hammerhead shark with guts spilling out, was racked in from the boat into the all too familiar enclosed space for the trader to measure the fins and decide on the price, I was overwhelmed with emotions. My reaction I thought, was uncalled for since it wasn’t my first time here yet the shock effect kicked in all at once. Maybe I never really ever want to be desensitized to seeing this happening over and over gain.

I think we saw a total of 3 ray sharks, 4 hammerhead sharks, 4 thresher sharks and 15 other reef sharks alongside 5 manta rays, with maggots and guts spilling out. None of the species I have ever seen alive before. It was heart-wrenching and sickening to say the least. Then it dawned upon me, the daunting nature of what I had ahead of me. Can I really change things around here? What if the shark traders come after my life? I also realized there and then that in spite of the sights and sounds I can capture here, there is one thing I cannot ever capture, the smells here…the stinking smell of death that lingers and reeks on our clothes even after we left.

Wages for traders per kilogram of shark fin – USD600-1000;

wages of fishermen and boat crew for catching sharks that bring in 1 kilogram of fins – USD60;

wages for butchers who help cut up the fins, shark meat and get the guts for free bonus (to be made into satay and crackers) – USD6

Really, how does that equate to fair division? The “think about the poor fishermen’s livelihood” argument doesn’t really hold anymore then as, clearly, there is exploitation in the shark finning and fishing industry (at least here in Lombok it is evident) and the middlemen gains the most. What are you really feeding when you choose to say yes to shark fin soup?

Perhaps before embarking on The Dorsal Effect ecotours, Wei Yuet and I hazarded the thought, tongue-in-cheek, that we should bring brides to be, to Tanjung Luar, shock them to tears with how the fins for their soup are obtained so they would think twice about serving it at their wedding dinner before starting the ecotourism packages.

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