Why a ban on transporting all shark fin remains the best way to revive threatened species

Allen To applauds shipping companies’ decision to stop freighting shark fin, given the difficulties of verifying sustainable alternatives

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 June, 2016, 11:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 June, 2016, 11:56am

Globally, a shocking quarter of sharks and related species are threatened with extinction, a result of the human appetite for shark fin and other products.

Hong Kong is a major trading hub for shark fin, with most of the fins imported by sea, rather than air. Thus, the announcement last month by 16 global shipping companies to ban the carriage of shark fin is a key step to significantly reduce its trade in Hong Kong.

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Unlike many other marine species for which sustainable alternatives exist, there is a dearth of sustainable shark products. Even with efforts to improve shark fisheries worldwide, it is impossible for sustainable alternatives to cater to the huge demand that exists. Any shark products that claim to be from sustainable sources need to be fully traceable along the entire supply chain to ensure there is no fraud. Thus, the safest option for conservation is not to consume or trade shark fin at all.

It is not hard to understand why shipping companies have joined more than 20 airlines – including, now, Cathay Pacific – in banning the transport of shark fin. Aside from the environmental concerns, companies involved in the trade expose themselves to legal and reputational risks. Even though the trade in a few products derived from sharks is permitted and some regulation is in place, shipping companies feel the stakes are simply too high to continue as before; it is virtually impossible to differentiate between legal and illegal shark fins.

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Added to the ever-increasing public awareness of the consequences of consuming shark products, the shipping ban bodes well for the recovery of shark populations worldwide.

Tremendous progress has been made in Hong Kong over the past few years to reject shark fin. Demand is dropping, though it is still too high. Meanwhile, the situation in the world’s oceans is worsening for many shark species. The good news is that, as the commitments of shipping companies and airlines come into force, supply lines will dry up.

Perhaps one day, demand for shark fin will be low, and fishing fleets around the world will have cleaned up their act and applied for full certification of their products. When the demand for shark products has been significantly reduced and can be met by an increased supply of certified and traceable sustainable products, then perhaps the time will be right for shipping companies and airlines to modify their policies.

Until that day arrives, we all need to say “no” to shark fin and other shark products. In this way, we will allow shark populations to increase, and balance to be restored to the world’s oceans.

Allen To is assistant manager in the Footprint Programme at WWF-Hong Kong