Shark fin traders in Hong Kong blasted an "anti-Chinese conspiracy" by environmentalists, whose constant bombardment of criticism they say is killing their business.
"The whole industry has recorded a [sales] decrease of 50 per cent on last year," Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association chairman Ho Siu-chai said. "[The decline] is mainly due to the omnipresent advocacy by green groups."
Ho said his industry was being targeted by an anti-Chinese conspiracy led by "Western" environmental groups. "They always blame us for cutting off fins and dumping carcasses at sea. This is not true and is distorted," he said.
The strong hostility to the trade has seen about 30 per cent of shark fin shops close down in recent years, Ho estimated, adding that some traders had been forced to sell other dried seafood, such as abalone and scallops.
Ho's shop Siu Fung Shark Marine Products is at the western end of Des Voeux Road in Sai Ying Pun where rows of musty shops sell a vast array of dried food, from mushrooms to seahorses.
It is also a hub for the global shark fin trade, taking about half the world's total fin harvest, says environmental group WWF.
Veteran trader Kwong Hung-kwan, owner of Shark's Fin City in Sheung Wan, said Hong Kong had become an entrepot for the product. "Nowadays, Hongkongers consume about 10 per cent of our imports," he said. "The rest is shipped to China, the US, Canada and Malaysia for Chinese there to consume."
Census and Statistics Department figures show that shark fin imports have reduced from 10,292 tonnes in 2011 to 3,087 tonnes last year, up to November.
Fins now mainly come from the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Indonesia and Taiwan.
"It's getting more difficult to do business in the city because of the conservationists," Kwong said. "That's why traders now import less."
Environmentalists have campaigned against the trade in fins - an expensive staple at weddings and banquets - saying the harvesting methods are cruel and that shark populations have declined dramatically as a result.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature says a third of all shark species are threatened with extinction.
Correction: In the eighth paragraph, the numbers of 2011 and 2012 shark fin imports should be "10,292 tonnes" and "3,087 tonnes" respectively, instead of "10.3 tonnes" and "3.1 tonnes," as stated in an earlier version.