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.

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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

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