Cathay Pacific right to introduce ban on shark-fin cargo
Given that Chinese attitudes towards shark’s fin soup are changing, the airline’s decision is timely, and brings it into step with its competitors
An impressive array of international carriers has refused shark-fin cargo. But an air embargo to help stamp out a cruel and species-threatening trade did not look convincing or effective so long as it lacked a Chinese flag carrier. Environmentalists are therefore jubilant that Hong Kong’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific and sister carrier Dragonair have announced an immediate ban on shark-fin cargo. This marks an abrupt abandonment of a controversial policy of carrying shark fin believed to be from sustainable fishing aimed at conservation of threatened populations. Since it was adopted in 2012, nearly 40 airlines including budget operator HK Express have applied an outright ban, leaving Cathay somewhat isolated and exposed to increasing public pressure. Now activists are turning up the heat on logistics giant FedEx to follow rival UPS and join the ban.
The Cathay U-turn follows protests by environmentalists at its check-in counters at Hong Kong International Airport and petitioning of airline executives by children. Cathay said community support for promoting responsible and sustainable marine sourcing was important to its sustainable development goals. Nonetheless, it is keeping the new policy under review “as we do with all our sustainable development policies”. This reflects a conflict between marine scientists and some conservationists over whether sustainable shark fishing is key to long-term conservation. The scientists have described the shark-fin carriage policy Cathay has just dumped as an example of responsible stewardship that promotes sustainable shark fishing.
In resisting past pressure for an outright ban, Cathay set up a panel of experts in 2012 to advise on a case-by-case basis whether a shipment was from a sustainable source. But campaigners argue that it is often impossible to tell if cargo is sustainable or not. Given that Chinese attitudes towards shark’s fin soup are changing amid the conflict between conservation awareness and culinary habits, Cathay’s decision is timely, and brings it into step with competitors British Airways, American Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Emirates.