A popular dish at weddings and banquets in China, shark fin soup is increasingly off the menu due to a government frugality drive and awareness campaigns and by conservationists, according to a new report.
The trade in shark fins, a symbol of wealth in China and other parts of Asia, has led to the decline in some shark populations by up to 98% in the last 15 years. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year with up to 73 million used for their fins.
China became the world’s largest market for shark fin due to its rising wealth and desire for luxury goods. However, sales of shark fin have fallen from 50-70%, according to a report by WildAid, a US-based organisation focusing on reducing demand for wildlife products.
According to data collected by WildAid, sales of shark fin in Guangzhou, considered to be the centre of the shark fin trade in China, have dropped by 82%. The report complied data from a number of different sources including news reports, online surveys, undercover interviews with traders in China and trade statistics from Hong Kong, once considered to be the global hub for trade in shark fin.
According to the report, wholesale shark fin traders in Guangzhou are complaining that sales are decreasing and prices are falling. One wholesaler quoted in the report said that “shark fin is a dying business” with others reporting that medium-sized shark fins are only selling for half the price.
An anti-corruption drive by the Chinese government is thought to be one of the main factors behind the decrease in sales. Considered a luxurious delicacy, shark fin was often a feature on the menu at official functions. But under the government’s austerity campaign, it was banned from being served at state events in 2012.
Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid said that while the government ban has played a role there has been “no magic bullet, it’s been a combination of factors”.
WildAid say that a change in public attitudes towards the consumption of shark fin in China, particularly among younger generations, is having a big impact too. According to the report, 85% of Chinese consumers surveyed online said they gave up shark fin soup within the past 3 years. They credit a large awareness campaign of the impact of the shark fin trade, headed by former basketball star Yao Ming, a popular figure in China. “The more people learn about the consequences of eating shark fin soup, the less they want to participate in the trade,” said Knights.
Pressure from conservationists has also influenced big businesses. A number of large hotel chains have stopped serving shark fin soup and more than 20 airlines have agreed not to transport it.
Last year, it was reported that the owners of factories that process sharks in Puqi, a seaside town in Zhejiang province blamed such awareness campaigns for a drop in their business. Hong Kong-based conservation group WildLife Risk, previously alleged that a plant in Puqi were processing hundreds of sharks of endangered species each year.
A quarter of the world’s sharks are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) with the market for shark fin a major factor. Knights said that the reduction in sales of shark fin will help the situation. “Hopefully sharks will become commercially extinct rather than actually extinct. It’s certainly going to help relieve pressure to a large degree.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010