The mainland is considering banning officials from eating shark fin at banquets paid for by public money within three years - a prohibition environmentalists say would give a big push to global efforts to end the trade.
China National Radio reported yesterday the Government Offices Administration of the State Council was expected to issue guidelines within three years prohibiting tens of thousands of public servants from eating shark fin at government banquets paid for with tax money.
Xinhua reported: 'The administration will co-operate with financial departments to restrict expenses on luxury food at official receptions, and impose stronger supervision over banquets funded with public money.'
Authorities said the decision was in response to a proposal jointly submitted by more than 30 representatives of the National People's Congress in March last year.
The proposal urged authorities to ban consumption and trading of shark fin, considered a delicacy that has associations with wealth, in an attempt to protect dwindling populations of dozens of shark species.
But for some members of the public, the government's time frame was a needless delay.
'Banning shark fin will take the State Council three years to decide? That's why it'll take another 300 years for China to launch democratic reform,' one wrote on Sohu.com.
'Does the State Council mean public servants should spare no effort to eat shark fin within the coming three years, as their opportunities to eat it with public funds will be ended?' another Web user wrote.
But environmentalists said the news was at least a positive sign.
Dr Andy Cornish, director of conservation for WWF Hong Kong, welcomed the step as a significant help in the global effort to protect shark populations. 'It shows China now acknowledges that [consumption] is a problem and is starting to address it,' he said.
Cornish hoped that the mainland, as the world's largest consumer of shark fin, would apply the ban not only at the state level but also the provincial and local ones.
Cornish also took the opportunity to press the Hong Kong government to make a clear and firm pledge not to offer shark fin at official gatherings.
A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department in Hong Kong said the government had internal guidelines departments must follow in setting the budget for organising official functions.
Citing WildAid, a conservation organisation, Xinhua reported that up to 70 million sharks were slain annually for their fins, putting at least 17 per cent of known shark species and manta on the verge of extinction.
Between 50 and 80 per cent of the shark fin market is handled in Hong Kong, but the city, along with the mainland, has resisted a global push towards a ban.
However, several of the city's top hotels, including the Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula, have taken it off the menu.
More than a dozen nations have shark fin bans in place.