Donald Trump Was Served Shark Fin Soup in Vietnam—A Delicacy Driving Sharks to Extinction

A worker cuts the shark fin at Muncar Port on May 25, 2014 in Banyuwangi, Indonesia. Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images

President Donald Trump was treated to a state dinner in Vietnam prominently featuring fish dishes, including a seafood soup containing shark fin—an expensive local delicacy responsible for driving sharks to extinction.

The Vietnamese seafood soup, the fifth dish served in the seven-course menu on Saturday, contained another controversial ingredient. Demand for fish maw, also known as fish bladder, is threatening the extinction of two fish species in the Gulf of Mexico.

By the time the president arrived in Vietnam, the fourth leg of his five-nation Asia tour, he had already been treated to traditional dishes and American favorites in Japan, South Korea and China—some of these seasoned with controversy, like the shrimps in a state dinner in Seoul, which were caught near the islands of Dokdo disputed with Tokyo.

While the practice of shark finning doesn't play into historical discord among two nations, it threatens the survival of a whole species. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), nearly 100 million sharks are killed each year, with the global shark fin trade largely responsible for their decimation.

A man slices the tail of a hammerhead shark at the dock of the Mirissa Fisheries Harbour in south Sri Lanka April 3, 2014. More than 100 million sharks are killed each year according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The fins of hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks are in great demand for banquet soups in Asia, and fins can sell for as much as $700 a pound. David Loh/Reuters

"Shark finning is illegal in the U.S and regulated in 21 countries for good reason. Shark finning is a horrible, inhumane practice involving cutting the fins from live sharks for shark fin soup, and throwing the shark back into the ocean. The practice has led to an extinction crisis for many shark species and a horrible death for those sharks finned," IFAW president and CEO Azzedine Downes said in a statement.

A shark may be alive once it's thrown back into the ocean with its fins removed, but it is destined to a slow and probably painful death. Without its fins, the animal is unable to swim, and sinks to the bottom where it becomes easy prey for other fish.

Shark finning was banned in the U.S. under the 2000 Shark Finning Prohibition Act, and in 2010 the Shark Conservation Act further required that all sharks caught in the U.S., apart from one species (the smooth dogfish), be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached to the carcass. The sale, trade, possession and distribution of shark fin products is however only banned in some states and, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, shark fin soup is still served in a number of restaurants across the country.

The failed Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, NJ, was reportedly serving shark fin soup in 2013. One reviewer on TripAdvisor called on the restaurant to take the item off the menu. "I will not be at your restaurant until you do so," she wrote in June 2013.

A Twitter user wrote directly to Trump asking to remove the item from his menu just a few weeks later.

"@4everSharkie: #iHateTheFactThat @trumpcasinos serves #sharkfinsoup and @realDonaldTrump could be a hero and stop it! You like sharks?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2013

Trump responded to him, asking "You like sharks?" before describing his own feelings towards the majestic animal. "Sorry folks, I'm just not a fan of sharks—and don't worry, they will be around long after we are gone," he wrote, apparently oblivious to the conservationist fight to save the species from extinction.

Sorry folks, I'm just not a fan of sharks - and don't worry, they will be around long after we are gone.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2013

"Sharks are last on my list - other than perhaps the losers and haters of the World!" he added.

Sharks are last on my list - other than perhaps the losers and haters of the World!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2013

His answer failed to satisfy the concerned Twitter user.

According to IFAW's Downes, Trump's apparent obliviousness to the controversial dish is bad news for conservationist efforts.

"This careless act demonstrates that President Trump does not understand the plight of endangered species worldwide. Actions like this undermine global conservation efforts and signal to world leaders that the U.S. is abandoning its leadership role," he said. "If careless actions such as these continue, endangered species across the world will continue to be driven towards extinction, rolling back decades of progress."