T-Mac's bowl of shark's fin soup raises hackles

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 September, 2006, 12:00am

US basketball player Tracy McGrady has drawn fire from local wildlife campaigners and animal rights activists for devouring a bowl of shark's fin soup during his recent visit to Hong Kong.

The 27-year-old NBA star, otherwise known as T-Mac, said he was impressed by the broth he was served during an adidas retailer dinner at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant at the end of last month.

McGrady, who stars beside Yao Ming for the Houston Rockets, was in Hong Kong on the last leg of his Asian tour to mingle with local fans and promote the limited edition adidas T-Mac 1 trainer.

'It is fantastic to be in Hong Kong again,' said the two-time NBA scoring champion. 'This is the first time I've had shark's fin soup in my life.'

The controversial delicacy has been widely blamed for putting some shark species at risk of extinction and for animal cruelty.

Many sharks are targeted solely for their fins and are thrown back into the sea to bleed to death after their fins have been hacked off, in a widespread practice known as 'finning'.

Veteran anti-shark's fin campaigner Brian Darvell, who led the campaign to strike the soup off the menu at Hong Kong Disneyland last year, said it set a bad example for millions of fans around the world.

'It is a matter of education. It is just sad that despite the amount of publicity, a lot of presumably intelligent people haven't noticed or have chosen not to notice, and continue to contribute to destruction on a grand scale,' Professor Darvell said.

'He bears responsibility. He is a role model and, whether he likes it or not, when people see him doing something it carries meaning.'

In 2002 Professor Darvell sparked a row with the Hong Kong Tourism Board over its promotion of the delicacy that forced it to remove references to the dish from the Discover Hong Kong website. He has also urged hotels to remove the dish, but with limited success.

He said the incident showed more should be done to educate tourists, but added: 'Just try telling that to HKTB.'

Ironically, last month teammate Yao Ming pledged to give up the Cantonese delicacy and urged his countrymen to do the same at a press conference organised by the conservation group WildAid.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Asia-Pacific director Jason Baker said he had sent a letter to McGrady urging him to recant his actions in public.

'Unfortunately it comes right on the heels of Yao Ming making such a bold statement,' he said. 'Hopefully the two of them can have a chat so he can understand the situation.'

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that 100 million sharks are harvested for their fins every year, though the figure could be as high 200 million.

Between 50 per cent and 85 per cent ends up in Hong Kong, where it is either consumed or re-exported to the mainland. About 11,700 tonnes of dried shark's fin were imported in 2003, according to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring group.

More than 210 species of shark are listed on the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife, though only three, the whale shark, basking shark and great white, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, due to lack of evidence dwindling shark populations are caused by trade.

No other explanation has been offered for the plunge in the number of sharks.