An old adage says you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear…but you could make sow's ear soup.
Or how about a cow's nose soup?
If neither of those sounds appetizing, why is shark fin soup such a delicacy? All of those soups' main ingredient is cartilage. Yet it is only in the case of the latter of those three dishes that people are willing to pay exorbitant prices and fuel an international trade in animal mutilation.
Shark fin soup is a delight in some cultures, especially in Hong Kong. Fifty percent of the world's shark fin harvest winds up floating in a bowl in Hong Kong, according to The Pew Environmental Group. The sharks that lose their fins to the food are often tossed back into the ocean alive, unable to swim, doomed to die slowly in the the murky depths.
Using data from the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong, the Pew Environmental Group found that 83 countries exported more than 10.3 million kilograms (22.7 million pounds) of shark fin products to Hong Kong in 2011. Pew also claims that the number of sharks finned is three to four times the number reported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Although portrayed as human-hungry predators in many B-movies, the majority of sharks are in far more danger of being eaten by humans than vice-versa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists approximately one quarter of the world's shark species as threatened or near threatened with extinction. Not all of that is because of shark fin soup, some of the sharks' meat is consumed as well.
After decades of protests, the slaughter of sharks continues. Some countries, like Honduras, have banned shark fishing in their waters, but that doesn't stop the 83 other countries from continuing the practice.
Would mock shark fin made from the aforementioned sows' ears staunch the flow of fins? It is probably as futile as suggesting the replacement of rhino horn aphrodisiacs with Viagra. However hypothetically, structurally similar tissues, like pig ears, could replace fin the way cheap flavored fish became imitation crab meat.
Shark fins drying on sidewalk in Hong Kong (Cloneofsnake, Wikimedia Commons)