In China, few dishes are more consistent a staple dish of the wealthy than shark’s fin soup. It has been very popular since the Ming Dynasty era (1368-1644) and continues today (Li and Weil, 2013). For a brief time, shark’s fin soup was not popular after the 1949 Communist revolution, but later regained it’s place of prominence among the moneyed classes in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore (Tsui, 2013). When the global economy came to China following President Nixon’s partnership, global capital was making many in China very wealthy. A decade and a half ago, a new middle class found itself able to afford a delicacy once enjoyed by a privileged few (Li and Weil, 2013). Shark’s fin soup in Chinese culture is about honoring (and impressing) your guest; traditionally, in weddings the groom’s parents chose a menu to signal prosperity (Tsui, 2013). As more and more families truly became prosperous, shark’s fin soup became the status symbol of “the best” in culture (Tsui, 2013).
Shark’s fin soup has increased consumption in China where 95% of shark fins are consumed due to a rise in consumer buying power (Li and Weil, 2013). Hong Kong is the global trade hub for shark fin, handling about half the world’s imports and they send most of the shark fin on into China.
As the world has become more interconnected and social media has brought exposure to world issues at lightning speed, the plight of shark’s fin has become an issue to many marine ecologist activists. Contributing factors to the shark’s fin being an ecological hot button issue are based on the following: Increased consumption in China where 95% of shark fins are consumed due to a rise in consumer buying power; Increased popularity in shark tournament fishing; and the delay of the European Union in creating anti-finning legislation due to Spain being a predominant shark fin hub (Li and Weil, 2013). Most environments are appalled at how the finning process takes place. Due to the fin being worth much more than the rest of the carcass, many fishermen wastefully cut the shark’s fins off and toss its carcass back into the sea still alive (Li and Weil, 2013).
At the end of 2012 by Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department was an intriguing number: 3,100 metric tons, the amount of shark fin imported last year (excluding December) (Tsui, 2013). It highlighted a precipitous drop from the 10,300 metric tons imported in 2011. Local news outlets and activists pointed to this figure as real evidence their campaigns to curtail demand in mainland China were working (Li and Weil, 2013).
In the case study at present, David Chung, the owner of the Jade Seafood Restaurant in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, B.C. is faced with a problem in August 2012. Not only is he the owner of a local restaurant, he is the president of the BC Asian Restaurant and Café Owners Association. He is an active realtor and founded Dava Developments in 1979. Animal activists have ambushed him and brought four local news reporters to confront him over the serving of shark’s fin soup. The primary problem Chung has is over maintaining his reputation and the reputation of his restaurant in his community. The basic issues of the case are crisis communications, speaking to the media, and reputation management.
This case is a decision case because Chung must decide how he will respond to the reports. Will he be given the opportunity for an honest dialogue or will he be demonized for serving shark’s fin soup? The key decision he has to make is will he announce he will continue serving shark’s fin soup or make a change from his present position. Regardless, his focus must be on preserving a positive view of his business, his association, and his personal brand to the media in his community.
If Chung decides to continue to serve shark’s fin soup, he will need to seek to a leave a positive view of business to the media by providing DNA samples to show his shark’s fin do not belong to threatened or endangered sharks as listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (Li and Weil, 2013). He could advocate for a sustainable alternative such as dogfish fins or tilapia fins since shark fin itself is tasteless (Li and Weil, 2013). He could advocate for a cultural consumption change within the Asian community in his role as president of the BC Asian Restaurant and Café Owners’ Association. He would be following the lead of WWF-Hong Kong who has persuaded more than 150 corporations, including HSBC and Alibaba, to eliminate shark fin soup at their functions (Li and Weil, 2013). Even the global Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts stopped serving shark fin at its 116 properties, half of which are in China (Tsui, 2013). The Chinese government announced that it would stop serving the dish at official state banquets. CCTV, China’s largest television network reported that much of the shark fin served at top restaurants was fake and that actual shark fin was full of mercury and devoid of nutritional value (Tsui, 2013).
Reputations are seen as a valuable, intangible asset (Coombs and Holladay, 2006). Reputational assets have been linked to very positive outcomes such as attracting customers, generating investment interest, attracting top employee talent, motivating workers, increasing job satisfaction, generating more positive media coverage, and garnering positive comments from financial analysts (Coombs and Holladay, 2006). Dr. Chung’s reputation in his community is of vital importance.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Dr. Chung has been given a unique opportunity to make a statement to the media in his community. If he takes a positive stand against using the endangered shark’s fin, his community image and reputation can be enhanced on many levels. He can add to his reputational “savings account” to protect him from future attacks to his reputation. He can bring attention to a global ecological crisis with the rapidly declining numbers of predatory sharks and the cascading effect. It is recommended he remove shark’s fin soup from his menu at The Jade Seafood Restaurant and advocate for others in his BC Asian Restaurant and Café Owners’ Association to do the same. He has the social cache to make this stand. The cultural demand is changing for shark’s fin soup as an aristocratic staple. He can lead a change and be a part of a solution in Canada as a unique English-speaking Chinese restauranteur. He can win excellent free publicity for his restaurant and even his real estate business by making a very strong environmental stand with few negatives. If he as one at the top of the BC Asian community social standing makes this stand, culturally those less influential will feel compelled to follow suit.
A reputational crisis over shark’s fin soup does not appear worth the damage it could do to his reputation in his community as an Asian leader and as a realtor. Since the restaurant has been labeled his “hobby,” it is not recommended taking such a large risk to one’s standing in both the Asian and BC community as a whole. Providing an alternative to shark’s fin soup such as dogfish fins or tilapia fins appear to be the best substitutes. In this decision case, Dr. Chung has much to gain by taking a strong stand against shark’s fin soup but even more to lose if he decides to be against the tide of public opposition to shark’s fin soup.
Coombs, W. Timothy and Holladay, Sherry J. “Unpacking the halo effect: reputation and crisis management,” Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 10 No. 2, 2006. pp. 123-137.
Li, Leon and Weil, Mary. “Shark’s Fin Soup at the Jade.” Ivey Publishing. Version 2013-07-09.
Tsui, Bonnie. “Souring on Shark Fin Soup.” NY Times Sunday Review. June 29, 2013.