Conservation group Oceana is petitioning online food delivery service GrubHub to take a stand against restaurants that sell shark fin soup. In its letter to GrubHub, Oceana cited a 2013 study that estimated the shark fin trade claims up to 73 million sharks annually.
Representative Abigail Hunt told The Dodo that GrubHub "dug in" following Oceana's letter, and determined where restaurants were criminally selling soup on their online platforms. Shark fin soup is not illegal everywhere in the U.S., but in municipalities such as Boston, local laws prohibit its sale.
GrubHub, as well as its subsidiary Seamless, removed illegal items posted on restaurant menus, Hunt said. If a search of GrubHub and "shark fin soup" does not come up empty (as of this writing, it doesn't), the restaurants are either selling the soup legally or violating GrubHub's policy; GrubHub encourages diners to get in touch if they spot outlaw dishes. GrubHub also plans to educate restaurant owners that if diners don't want to see shark fin soup, it could affect the bottom line.
But Oceana would like to see GrubHub to do more than follow the letter of local and state laws - "Take a stand for sharks by removing restaurants still offering shark fin products from your company website," the petition reads.
"Oceana is concerned that GrubHub is offering shark fin products for sale across the United States," said Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's vice president of U.S. oceans, in a statement. "We have asked the company to take action and are currently in discussions with GrubHub about whether it will agree to stop selling shark fin products."
GrubHub confirmed it has been in contact with Oceana and will meet next week to discuss the issue of restaurants selling shark fin soup.
Savitz noted that other companies have ceased selling shark fin products; Amazon and Disney no longer do so, Oceana said in the petition. "However, at this time, [GrubHub] is still offering these products for sale in some states," Savitz said, "so we hope that customers will make their feelings on this known to the company through our petition or on their own."
From both ecological and culinary standpoints, shark fin soup isn't worth it. Because the fish are apex predators, the effects of shark overfishing ripple through the environment. (The taste has never earned a chef a Yelp star: A sort of gobby sodium broth, with gelatinous cartilage strands the consistency of bean sprouts.) Though shark finning - cutting off just the fins of a shark and then throwing the animal back in the ocean - is banned outright in the U.S., on a federal level it is legal to sell the fins, provided fishermen possess the entire shark.
Where the tide is turning, however, is culturally. Chinese diners are the main consumers of fins - the soup is considered a luxury dish, served at weddings - but shark fin sales are dropping in provinces in mainland China. By and large, China has had "a fantastic awakening" regarding shark fin soup, Sonja Fordham, the president of Shark Advocates International, told The New York Times in 2013.