Hong Kong must stop shark fin shipments sneaking in

Tracy Tsang says the continued presence of high-risk species in our seafood stores because of dishonest shipping practices means that shipping companies need to be extra vigilant about their cargo

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 6:43pm

A recent finding revealed that shark fin sold in the city’s dried seafood stores comprises at least 76 species (of sharks, batoids and chimaeras), of which one-third face extinction. This highlights the need for more companies to adopt “no shark fin” carriage policies to ensure they are not transporting this unsustainable and often illegal cargo.

At least 17 shipping companies, accounting for 80 per cent of the global market share, have imposed a ban on shark fin shipments. Their good work should not be undermined by traders who are trying to sneak their products onto ships.

Hong Kong accounts for about 50 per cent of the global shark fin trade annually. Ninety per cent of shark fin (by volume) imported to Hong Kong in 2016 arrived via our container port. Despite a growing momentum for shipping lines to ban shark fin carriage over the past two years, shark fin import volume in 2016 showed almost no difference compared to 2015.

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In mid-2016, WWF-Hong Kong met with management teams and frontline staff of various shipping companies to identify the key challenges they face in enforcing the “no shark fin” carriage policy. The most difficult task is properly identifying suspected shark fin shipments. In March 2017, several airlines and shipping lines were embarrassed by unintentional shark fin shipments. This happens because most cargo on containers is loaded, counted and sealed by those shipping the material. The system is based on trust. The shipper may use vague terms such as “dried seafood” on orders or another language such as Spanish for shark fin (aleta de tiburon) to mislead frontline staff.

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To prevent this, shipping companies must insist that their clients provide a World Customs Organisation harmonised system code when making shipment orders. The code is a six-digit number that can be used to identify suspicious cargo.

Shipping companies can also focus on staff training at specific high-risk countries/regions, such as Spain and Vietnam. Hong Kong imports the most shark fin from the former in 2016 and the latter was the largest shark fin receiver.

We are encouraged that most shippers are open to exploring solutions to these issues. After a year of discussions, WWF-Hong Kong produced the “no shark fin” carriage policy guidelines, which summarise the challenges in identifying shark fin shipments and provides tips that shipping and logistics companies can use in their daily operations.

WWF-Hong Kong invites more shipping companies to establish a “no shark fin” carriage policy. Only by working together can we secure a healthier ocean.

Tracy Tsang is senior programme officer (oceans sustainability) at WWF-Hong Kong