Blue sharks bearing the brunt?
While statistics suggest a falling appetite for shark fin in Hong Kong overall, there are doubts about the data and fears for one species in particular.
THE LAST INTERNATIONAL UNION FOR Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessment for the blue shark was done a full 12 years ago. This is despite the species being on that body’s Red List of Threatened Species. Wildaid’s Hong Kong-based campaign manager, Alex Hofford, fears for the animal, particularly as it is now the only shark sourced by the local catering mogul, Maxim’s Group. The group has 21 Chinese restaurants among its plethora of international outlets, as well as the franchises for famous brands such as Starbucks and Genki Sushi. Such higher-end restaurants have long made a killing on banquets for weddings and other occasions, bumping up meal prices with shark fin and other ‘luxury’ foods. As long as the blue shark is on Maxim’s radar, Hofford believes the fish stands little chance of survival in the long run. According to their latest press release published on June 10, 2017, Maxim’s justifies its use of blue sharks because of their “lower risk-near threatened” status, despite that being based on that 2005 IUCN listing. The group also claims to conduct independent DNA testing to ensure their catch is restricted to blue sharks, though it doesn’t detail the extent of this. Statistics say that Hong Kong has seen a 42% drop in the import of shark fin between 2010 and 2015, thanks to publicity campaigns and growing environmental awareness among younger generations. Meanwhile in China, President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has led to a notable slump in shark fin consumption among the business and political classes. Despite these encouraging signs, however, there is a long way still to go. Many Hong Kong party planners have yet to walk the talk on shark fin. Some are known to have simply removed it from à la carte menus, while still offering it as a set on request. “When young people are orga nising a wedding banquet, often even the organisers will suggest shark fin because, don’t forget, they can make money,” said Yvonne Sadovy de Mitcheson, Head of Biolog ica l Science Department in the Hong Kong University. Demand may also not have dropped as much as import statistics suggest. In a 2015 survey by Bloom Association and the Social Sciences Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong, nearly 70% of respondents said they had cut back on shark fin soup. But Hofford believes people may be finding it hard to face down family pressure. “Some of the surveys done in recent years may not be exactly accurate. What is happening, we think, is that people are lying in telephone surveys about what they did. Somebody calls them out [at a meal] and asks whether they eat it. They are not being truthful and answering ‘no’, because they know it’s not respectful”.
Help fight finning by following bodies such as Wildaid and Sea Shepherd. The Hong Kong office of WWF and the homegrown HK Shark Foundation run local campaigns and events. www.wildaid.org www.seashepherd.org www.wwf.org.hk/en/ www.hksharkfoundation.org