President Trump's Vietnamese hosts served him shark-fin soup instead of his customary steak Saturday in a culinary move that may have had political undertones.
Presented as the fifth course at Saturday's State Dinner in Hanoi, the soup was at the very least far more adventurous than Trump's standard beefy fare. In addition to shark fin and shrimp, the soup included "fish maw," according to the menu.
Fish maw refers to the flavor-absorbing dried swim bladder of a large fish like a sturgeon.
But it's the shark fin in the soup, while handsomely presented by female servers in pink dresses with cream silk pants and male servers in maroon dinner jackets, that may leave some with a bad taste in their mouth.
"The demand for these fins fuels shark finning, the act of slicing the fins off a shark and dumping its body back at sea where it will drown, bleed to death or be eaten alive by other fish," Lora Snyder, director of sharks and responsible fishing campaigns for Oceana, told House members earlier this month (E&E Daily, Nov. 3).
Snyder, who called the shark-fin trade "devastating," had joined other witnesses in urging action at the hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy and Environment.
The Trump administration was not represented at the hearing, convened to examine shark-finning legislation and potential loopholes in enforcement and reporting.
"The barbaric practice of 'finning' sharks at sea and returning their carcasses to the ocean has rightly been outlawed in the [United States] since the 1990s, as it is in many countries, but not all," noted Alistair D.M. Dove, vice president of research and conservation at the Georgia Aquarium.
In an email today, Dove added that he cannot comment "on another country's policy choices with respect to sharks."
By some estimates, up to 73 million sharks end up in the global fin trade annually.
Vietnam was the leading importer of shark fins from Hong Kong in 2014, according to an article in The Maritime Executive, although the ultimate destination was not easily traced. Hong Kong handles upward of 40 percent of the global trade.
"In practical terms, it is impossible to determine the origins of a fin once it has been removed from a shark," Dove stated.
The Shark Finning Prohibition Act that passed in 2000 banned shark finning and discarding the carcass at sea. It also banned the possession of shark fins aboard fishing vessels without the corresponding carcass. Congress followed up with the Shark Conservation Act in 2010.
"Unfortunately, the law still contains loopholes," Snyder testified, adding that "the United States continues to buy shark fins from countries without finning bans, and cases of finning are still being uncovered."
A House bill dubbed the "Justice Attributed to Wounded Sharks Act," H.R. 3377, would prohibit importing seafood products from countries that have not banned shark finning. The bill authored by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) has no co-sponsors so far, and its long-term prospects are unclear.
White House pool reports from the state dinner held in the upstairs ballroom of the International Convention Center gave no indication that Trump made a comment, of any kind, concerning his soup, which was followed by sautéd cod in lemon sauce.