The shark fin message is not getting through

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 December, 2010, 12:00am

These days it is seen to be politically incorrect to eat shark's fin soup, but one of Hong Kong's best-known Cantonese cuisine specialists offers the delicacy, proudly proclaiming the fact in its name - Sun Tun Lok Shark's Fin Restaurant. As if that was not enough of a slap in the face of efforts to end consumption of the animal, the world's most influential food guide, Michelin, has honoured the eatery by giving it its highest accolade, three stars. The rating is about culinary skills, but in this case it has also ignored the long-running, high-profile, global campaign to end the cruel treatment of the endangered creatures. It is sad to see that that message still has not sunk in at the top echelons of the industry.

Only those with their eyes and ears closed could have missed it. Shark's fin has been banned by Hong Kong Disneyland and the University of Hong Kong, while 52 restaurants and hotels have promised to provide at least one banquet menu without it. Surveys consistently show that a majority of people are willing to break with tradition and would opt for alternatives, if offered.

They have good reason to feel this way. Many species of shark, as with all large fish, are endangered by overfishing. The finning industry is worth an estimated US$1.2 billion annually and it is rapidly expanding as China becomes more prosperous and appetite for the dish increases. Demand and the difficulty of managing and monitoring fishing are driving some species to extinction.

Sustainability aside, it is the cruelty that provokes most anger. In some cases the fins are hacked from live sharks and the bodies tossed overboard. It is not known how widespread the practice is, but there is ample evidence at ports, on seabeds and in the videos of shark protection groups.

There are too many unknowns about fin fishing to support it. More than 55 per cent of the global trade comes to our city or passes through it, so we have got particular reason to want transparency and regulation. Until the industry can get its house in order, restaurants and food guides should be better attuned to attitudes and expectations.