Tide is turning in favour of sharks as conservationists smell victory

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 4:29am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 4:52am

Evidence of a crackdown on official extravagance and corruption in the mainland may be found by perusing Beijing's banquet and restaurant menus and Hong Kong's shark's fin re-export statistics. Shark's fin soup is now conspicuously absent from the menus, as Hong Kong deputies and delegates to last month's NPC and CPPCC gathering in Beijing would attest, and the volume of fin re-exports from Hong Kong to the mainland fell by almost 90 per cent last year.

These figures came as a pleasant surprise to WWF-Hong Kong, which for years has been at the forefront of pressure brought by environmental groups to stamp out the cruel and species-threatening trade. A WWF spokesperson did not rule out the possibility that the central government's anti-corruption measures could have played a role in the big drop in re-exports to the mainland, part of a 17.5 per cent fall overall in re-exports of shark's fin from Hong Kong, which in turn reflected a 35 per cent fall in the city's imports. Without detracting from conservationists' efforts and commitment over the years, that assessment is an understatement. The close sequence of the two events is unlikely to be a coincidence. Nonetheless, environment groups can claim credit for incremental progress, such as Beijing's move to stop the serving of shark's fin soup at state banquets, for the conversion of some large hotel groups to shark's-fin-soup-free menus, and for Cathay Pacific's decision to ban shark fin from cargo flights.

There remains strong cultural resistance to attempts to end consumption of a symbol of wealth and prestige, which helps provide a living for fishermen, dealers and restaurateurs. But the effect on public awareness of high-profile conservation victories will strengthen the hand of environmental groups, who say that the trade in fins from 70-odd million sharks each year puts more than half of all shark species at risk of extinction. The challenge is to convince hosts and diners that they can make a difference and help safeguard the marine ecosystem, by leaving shark's fin off the menu and not ordering it.