Claudia Li

How this young woman is fighting against finning

Burnaby, B.C. // Age: 25

Since graduating with a business degree in 2009, Claudia Li has devoted herself to saving sharks from “finning,” in which fishermen cut off the fin and leave the shark to die. Li’s online campaign through targets young Chinese couples around the world, who pledge not to serve shark-fin soup at their weddings. Demand for the traditional soup has contributed to a 90 per cent crash in some shark populations in the last 15 years.

Li became an activist after watching the documentary Sharkwater, a kind of anti-Jaws that has convinced thousands of people that sharks are misunderstood and important to ocean ecosystems. The film reached her at a vulnerable time: She had recently eaten shark-fin soup at a Chinese wedding.

The tide seems to be turning against finning: Canada has banned the practice in its territorial waters, and the Ontario towns of Brantford and Oakville have banned the sale of shark fin, as have several U.S. states (Toronto city council is slated to vote on the issue in October). But as Li points out, consumer education must happen at the same time or a black market will continue—picture the effects of a ban on turkey for Thanksgiving.

At over $500 a pound, shark-fin soup remains a status symbol for the growing Chinese middle class. But it’s not essential to Chinese culture, Li argues. “I tell people how my grandmother said we shouldn’t waste. Chinese people hate to waste—that’s why we eat chicken feet and pork blood. So why waste 95 per cent of the shark?”