Shark fin traders must disclose their sources

C.W. Cheung says more information will help consumers make more sustainable food choices

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 5:39am

A concerted effort by a number of nations and environmental groups has been responsible for a series of victories in Bangkok for the natural world, at the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Subsequent to the Thai prime minister's pledge to outlaw the nation's domestic ivory trade, delegates went on to vote to impose stricter regulations on the international trade of sharks.

At the meeting, the proposals that dealt with sharks and rays were of particular interest to WWF-Hong Kong. Three types of shark, the oceanic whitetip, the hammerhead − including the scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead and smooth hammerhead − and the porbeagle shark, were all accepted for inclusion in the convention. This allows the species to be commercially traded, but within strict regulations.

The great white shark, basking shark and whale shark have also been added to the list in recent years. While this is welcome, it still means that regrettably few of the more than 400 shark species are protected in this way. Many sharks remain unmonitored by Cites. Efforts to have more species monitored and protected must continue.

We in Hong Kong now enjoy enhanced food safety through the registration and supervision of vegetable farms and collection stations in mainland China. However, although shark fin costs much more than most vegetables, the origins of shark products are seldom disclosed, and their sources are neither registered nor certified to sustainable fisheries standards.

In the absence of effective measures to identify the species involved in shark products, consumers should say "no" to shark fin. How can we be sure it has been sustainably harvested? Restaurant owners and dining guide publishers also need to take their share of the responsibility and provide sustainable and shark-free dining options.

The government needs to collect and release full trade statistics on all shark products, including the species, volumes and country of origin. This will improve the regulatory environment, not just in Hong Kong but worldwide. At the same time, it will satisfy the public's need for information on the products they consume. Introducing methods such as DNA testing will also help consumers make smart decisions and avoid consuming threatened species.

The Hong Kong government must follow the central government in adopting a "no shark fin consumption policy" for all official events. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate leadership and commitment to the protection of sharks and our oceans. Only by working together can we bequeath a living planet to our future generations.

C.W. Cheung is head of the Footprint Programme at WWF-Hong Kong