Cathay flight ban is symbolic victory in shark fin campaign

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2012, 12:36am

To the uninitiated, shark fin sounds like waste, when every other edible part of the ocean predator has been harvested. All too often, unfortunately, it is the shark that is the unwanted leftover - tossed back into the sea for a cruel death after its fins have been hacked off to be made into shark's fin soup.

Half the world trade in shark fins is estimated to come through Hong Kong, to meet the demand here and in China for the soup, a favourite at wedding banquets and other special occasions. That makes it a prime target for conservation campaigns by a wide range of environmental groups, who say that the trade in fins from 73 million sharks each year puts more than half of all shark species at risk of extinction. So far, a few notable converts to shark's fin-free menus, such as the Shangri-La hotel chain and The Peninsula hotel group, have not had a domino effect on other top hotels.

So the campaigners are understandably jubilant that Cathay Pacific has finally banned shark fins from its cargo flights, which they say handle up to half the shark fins imported by air to Hong Kong, or up to 650 tonnes out of total imports last year of more than 10,000 tonnes.

Given cultural tradition, that may be more of a symbolic victory. Cathay and its subsidiary Dragonair are, after all, gifting other airlines business that Cathay says is inconsistent with its commitment to sustainable development. And attempts to end consumption of a symbol of wealth and prestige, one which helps provide a living for fishermen, dealers and restaurateurs, will face strong opposition.

But the incremental effect on public awareness, akin to the central government considering deleting shark's fin from official banquet menus, will strengthen the hand of the conservation movement in meeting the real challenge - which is to convince hosts and diners that they can make a difference to the survival of shark species, and help safeguard the marine ecosystem, by leaving shark's fin off menus and out of soup plates.