A Richmond restaurateur who opposes a regional ban on the sale of shark-fin products will not take shark-fin soup off his restaurant’s menu without a fight. David Chung, who owns the Jade Seafood Restaurant and is the head of the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association, plans on petitioning, protesting, and suing the municipal government if a shark-fin ban in Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby is brought in.
“I think this kind of thing is none of the business of the city, and it should be the judge[ment] of the federal government,” Chung told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview today (November 5). “City council, what do they know about sharks, really? They know a lot of things about development, health, education. They do a good job, but what do they know about sharks? Kerry Jang for example, what does this guy know about sharks?”
Jang, a Vision Vancouver city councillor who convinced Vancouver’s Floata Seafood Restaurant to stop serving shark-fin soup in September, is in a war of words with Chung. In a recent interview with the Ming Pao newspaper, Chung called Jang a “banana”—a derogatory term used to label people of Asian descent who are seen as “too white”—and accused him of spearheading the shark-fin ban only to garner political votes. Jang responded to these comments in a November 4 interview with the Straight, saying that he felt that Chung’s remark was “initially racist” before deciding to take it as an “offhand compliment”.
“His culture is totally Canadian, and he has no feeling for shark fin,” Chung reiterated to the Straight. “Canadian-born Chinese are based on Canadian culture....They’re called bananas for a good reason. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s not to be degrading. It just describes it well.”
Chung, who was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada at age 18, said that Chinese people born in China and Hong Kong hold a different view on the importance of shark fin in Chinese food culture.
“Chinese people from China or [those who] have been raised in China have been eating Chinese food all along, so shark-fin soup is the number one...the most prestigious dish on any Chinese menu,” Chung said. “If you take that away from the menu of an upscale Chinese restaurant or banquet hall, like ours, you’re missing something...you have a defect in the restaurant.”
Chung also claims that people who are opposed to the sale of shark fin and support a ban have been duped by animal-rights activists. According to Chung, animal-rights groups, such as Shark Truth, who are concerned about shark extinction and animal cruelty, are distorting the issue.
“Since 1994, the federal government of Canada has already banned finning. Anything that came back without the body of a shark would be fined very heavily, and that is not just Canada, it’s international—Europe, America,” Chung said. “Murder’s a crime but people still kill people, so I’m not saying that there’s absolutely no finning happening in this world. I’m quite sure there is, but we cannot—because of a few percentage of finning—say, ‘Do not eat shark fin. No, just eat the rest of the body. Ninety-seven percent of the body you can eat, but do not eat the fin.’”
Most sharks, according to Chung, are caught in the North Atlantic Ocean, where finning is illegal. He said that consuming shark fin is more ethical than eating factory-farmed chicken. In response to concerns that shark consumption would ultimately lead to species extinction, Chung referred to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which lists the vulnerability of various shark species.
“What we have imported commercially is not part of these endangered species,” Chung said. “All [of] the shark fin that we import comes with a certificate....People don’t know all the details. All they know is that these restaurants are selling endangered species—sharks.”
Chung views the involvement of Vancouver city councillors in the proposed shark-fin ban as an attack on Chinese culture. He said that a ban would infringe on a person’s fundamental right to choose what to eat.
“Do you want someone to ban your food on a city level? Tell you that you cannot eat this today, you cannot eat that tomorrow for not a good reason? It’s not a matter of whether banning this is going to affect your life. That’s not the issue. I’ll be honest with you, if I don’t eat shark fin for the rest of my life, I may not miss it at all....What we’re talking about, the right to eat our own food.”
While Chung said that he would obey a federal ban on shark fin, he argued that it would not be in Canada’s best interest, from an immigration perspective, to support such a ban.
“The whole thing would go back to China. People would label Canada as not friendly to Chinese, as not friendly to ethnic groups, [and] not a friendly country for Chinese to come to. I think it would really create a bad image,” Chung said. “You know all the multiculturalism going on in Vancouver in the last years has been very successful. I think people have been able to integrate, and it really has been a success story to tell the whole world. But something like this would really leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. It’s not a good thing to do at all. And we are not saving sharks by doing it.”
You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at twitter.com/michdas.