Fiji's airline bows to pressure on shark fins

Green groups jubilant after successful campaign to stop controversial cargo being carried into Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 June, 2013, 4:52am

Fiji's national airline has announced it will stop bringing shark fins from unsustainable sources to Hong Kong and other destinations after a campaign by green groups to stop it carrying the controversial cargo on flights from the Pacific island.

Air Pacific - which is being renamed Fiji Airways this week - announced a review of its policy after the South China Morning Post reported in May how environmentalists suspected large quantities of shark fins were being carried on its twice-weekly direct flights to Hong Kong.

The airline said the ban applied to all but sustainable shark products but green groups said this effectively meant a ban on all shark fins as there was currently no source recognised by environmental monitors as sustainable.

The airline's acting chief executive officer, Aubrey Swift, told the Post that the carrier had held talks with freight forwarders, suppliers, conservation groups and members of the fishing industry since the protests erupted.

"We believe a ban on the shipment of unsustainably-sourced shark fins is the right thing to do, and have implemented this policy with immediate effect," he said. "We understand the sensitivity and importance of this matter and we recognise and accept our responsibilities. As a result of our review, it is clear that stricter policies are required in order to ensure that Air Pacific only accepts and carries verified sustainable shark and shark-related products.

"This is consistent with our overriding commitment to environmental protection and conservation efforts in Fiji."

Air Pacific's decision follows a similar move by Cathay Pacific to ban shark fin cargoes following a long campaign by environmentalists.

Air New Zealand has also suspended shark fin cargoes from its flights to Hong Kong.

Alex Hofford, executive director of MyOcean and instigator of the campaign to ban shark fins from Air Pacific flights which was backed by about 60 green groups, said: "I would like to sincerely congratulate Fiji Airways for taking the right path in banning shark fin from all their flights - especially their route to Hong Kong.

"I am sure that as this ugly shadow lifts from the airline's image, many tourists and underwater enthusiasts who might have thought otherwise will soon come flocking to Fiji."

Hofford plans to extend his campaign to other airlines carrying shark fins to Hong Kong. He said the gesture would allow the Fiji airline to "move forward as a responsible player in the global aviation industry".

"Fiji's shark dive tourism is alone worth US$422 million a year and I believe their economy will start seeing dividends from this commendable decision soon," he said.

He said that his group and others would closely monitor the situation on the ground to make sure the airline stood by its pledge.

Last year Air Pacific sponsored a competition by the Hong Kong Shark Foundation for couples hosting a shark fin-free wedding and gave the winners free honeymoon flights to Fiji before the foundation realised its sponsor was carrying shark fins back to Hong Kong.