Taking shark fins off the city's menu

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong has a deserved reputation as a city which offers great food. The wide range of gastronomic delights available in our restaurants makes our city a paradise for diners and our Chinese cuisine is among the finest to be found anywhere in the world. But some of the dishes on our menus get there as a result of cruel practices or involve endangered species. Thankfully, the tradition is changing due to a growing awareness of the need for conservation.

It is encouraging to see that more eateries in Hong Kong have decided to take shark fin off the menu. The Peninsula Hotel is the latest to ban the popular Chinese dish starting from January. Hong Kong Disneyland stopped serving it years ago. Some hotels adopt an 'offer-upon-request' approach. This is a welcome development.

Invariably the highlight in a Chinese banquet, shark fin soup, is valued more because it is a symbol of wealth and respect for the guest rather than its taste. More environmentally conscious couples have heeded calls to abandon this course in their wedding banquet.

Tens of millions of sharks are estimated to have been killed for their fins every year. Hong Kong continues to be the biggest consumer, with at least half of the world's shark fin stocks passing through our city, either for consumption or re-export. The government is reluctant to take the lead to ban the dish in official banquets. Nor is it prepared to impose a wider ban than the three shark species stipulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The killing trade will only drive sharks into extinction if no further action is taken.

Cultural changes take time - and not only in this part of the world. In the West, there has been controversy over the eating of foie gras, for example. So far as sharks fin is concerned, a better understanding of the problem is the first step. A change in government policy and greater awareness among diners will help make a difference.