JIMBARAN, Indonesia, May 27 (Reuters Life!) - Call it shark for food lovers with some conscience: an Indonesian chef is making soup and other dishes from the flesh of the big fish whose survival is under threat because its fin is prized in Asia.
Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in this region, while the meat of the fish often seen as a ferocious sea predator is largely shunned because of its strong taste.
Bali-based chef Budi Susilo says he's come up with a way to make shark more palatable, and less vulnerable to being discarded in the ocean after its lucrative fin has been carved out.
"I came up with the idea while working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and discovered people there ate shark meat. It was tasteless," Susilo, who owns "Pak Item Restaurant" in Bali's Jimbaran resort, told Reuters Television.
"When I returned, I saw none of the restaurants here serve shark meat. So, I opened my restaurant and tried to be creative with shark meat," said the 42-year-old Susilo, who is better known as Mr Black, because he wears black every day.
Environmentalists say booming demand for shark fin soup, especially in China, is threatening the existence of several species, with fishers all over the world, and especially Spain and Indonesia, catching sharks for their lucrative fin and then discarding the carcasses.
Pak Item does not serve shark fin and Susilo said it took him two months to come up with the right ingredients to marinate the meat to make it taste better -- a mix of spices and herbs which he's not about to reveal.
SHARK FRIED RICE
Pak Item has been going strong since 2005 and serves shark meat in several ways: stewed, barbequed, fried or mixed in with a local favorite, fried rice.
Susilo uses blacktip reef sharks that are less than 4 meters (13 feet) long for his dishes and buys his daily supply from local fishermen in Bali, where most of the sharks caught are too small for restaurants selling fin soup.
Most customers come to Pak Item for the shark, which is considered as a cheap source of protein.
"This is my first visit to this restaurant. It tastes good," said A. Teng, 46, an Indonesian who was tucking into shark stew.
But not everyone is impressed by Susilo's efforts.
Indonesian environmentalists have protested against the killing of sharks and are working to draft legislation to protect the big fish.
Indonesia is considered one of the main culprits when it comes to overfishing sharks and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia official Dewi Satriani said even low-value sharks were being discarded at sea, either whole or with fins removed.
"Indonesia has formally ratified the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) pact, therefore those activities should be limited," said Satriani.
She added some countries, including Indonesia, did not report volumes of their catch.
"Indonesia is the world leading shark fishing nation. But this country is not on the list of 20 biggest exporters. This is strange, Indonesia catches most sharks but we have never recorded shark as our commodity," said Satriani.
Sharks, which inhabit all of the world's oceans, are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they have long life cycles and reproduce slowly.