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  • Updated: 11:05am
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Cathay Pacific's ban on non-sustainable shark fin cargo delayed

Putting emphasis on sustainability will be good in long run, say experts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 3:53am

Cathay Pacific's policy banning cargoes of non-sustainable shark fin will not come into effect until next year, about 18 months after it was announced, marine experts drawing up the guidelines say.

The experts defended the carrier's drawn-out approach, saying Cathay had "grasped a serious nettle" and that its stance would be more effective for marine conservation in the long term.

Cathay said on September 4 last year it would no longer carry shark fin from unsustainable sources, saying it expected to implement the policy within "approximately three months".

Its lead has since been followed by other airlines including Qantas, Air New Zealand and Emirates, which announced immediate blanket bans.

Cathay, by contrast, still carries shark fin, although it has stopped signing new contracts and volumes have plummeted from 300 tonnes a year to around six tonnes.

The hold-up has baffled some environmentalists who are wary of the airline's intentions and say they cannot understand why it does not impose an immediate ban until it defines sustainability.

But the three global experts working with Cathay - Professor Colin Simpfendorfer, Dr Nick Dulvy and Glenn Sant - insist the airline's approach will help generate demand for sustainable shark fin.

"Unless there is that demand from the consumer for a sustainable product, there is no incentive to transform the fishing industry and that's what I think is very exciting about Cathay's position," said Dulvy, co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Shark Specialist Group.

"They are potentially creating this demand for sustainable, traceable shark fin.

"Cathay Pacific has grasped a very serious nettle. It could have chosen to take a prohibitionist stance and said, 'This is too complicated'. I think it is very interesting that Cathay Pacific is trying to throw a bone to the shark fin dealers in Hong Kong, to say, 'We will try to work with you to find your product, but we are going to work on our terms and those terms are sustainability and traceability'."

Sant, global marine programme co-ordinator of Traffic International, said: "I think there's a lot of merit in the way Cathay has gone about this. It is quite a simple argument to say, 'We will just ban everything. It's too difficult to do'."

The complexities of defining sustainable sources meant it would take at least until early next year for Cathay to receive the experts' recommendations, said Simpfendorfer, director of the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture and the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at James Cook University in Australia.

"One of the complicating factors here is that sustainability is a word that means many things to many different people. We need to be very careful how we define sustainability," he said.

Cathay's head of environmental affairs, Dr Mark Watson, admitted the airline had taken a difficult route by seeking to reach its own definition of sustainable sources.

"Perhaps we have chosen a challenging path, but we believe it is the right path," Watson said.

"It's obviously complicated, it's new and it's challenging, but with the expertise and guidance we have, I think we will get there.

"I don't doubt there is a lot of work and effort that needs to be put in, but we have the commitment within the company to do that."


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This article is now closed to comments

By carrying any shark fins at present, Cathay Pacific leaves itself wide open to being a partner in Trans National Wildlife Crime. With so many countries now implementing their own domestic laws relating to sharks, the fact is that currently shark fins do not have any Certificate of Origin, therefore one has no guarantee that it hasn't come from an illegal source. If a shark is killed illegally in one country, it is a CRIME for it to be profited on in another. Anyone along the supply chain is considered a partner in this Trans National Wildlife Crime and will come under investigation from ICCWC (International Coalition Combating Wildlife Crime). This coalition is Interpol Wildlife, CITES, World Bank, World Customs and the UN Agency for Drug and Crime. When I ran this scenario past Interpol Wildlife's Mr David Higgins whilst at the UN CITES meeting in Bangkok this March, he concurred and also said that they could actually go one step further and include Captains of aircraft or vessels as partners in the crime, though that would likely never happen.
When Sea Shepherd sent this Trans National Wildlife Crime Proposal in to IATA, they serioulsy considered it and have since reviewed their guidelines for their member airlines. This is why we saw blanket bans come into place immediately after. Cathay Pacific needs to implement the same embargo or risk leaving itself open to investigations on its shark fin cargo.
Gary Stokes
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - Hong Kong
What long term?
In theory, I think it would be great if sustainable, traceable sources of shark fin could help make a dent in the massive overfishing of many shark species. If that's their aim, Cathy Pacific should be commended on working with these scientists to try; and for not accepting new consignments in the meantime.
Gary Stokes makes an excellent point about the risk of any company transporting shark fins internationally being implicated in a crime. It's sad that most airlines seem unconcerned by this (only follow laws they'll be penalised for breaking? I don't want to fly an airline like that). It'd be great to see a precedent setting investigation & prosecution, but wildlife crime is a neglected area.
I favor blanket bans.
Firstly, because well-intentioned legal and sustainable markets / certifications are often used to cover illegal trade.
Secondly, because we don't know if this demand might further stimulate unsustainable trade.
And thirdly, because of the public health concerns. Cathy and these scientists are looking at the damage shark fin trade does at one end: to shark populations & ecosystems. It's also doing damage at the other end: to consumers, with pregnant women and their unborn children at particular risk.
If a fin is sourced sustainably but still toxic to eat, I'd say it remains highly unethical to transport or sell for human consumption. Could any airline justify transporting baby milk formula it knows is likely to be contaminated?


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