Conservationists Find it Hard to Dent Hong Kong's Appetite for Shark Fin Soup

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The Wrong Kind of Status Symbol

In many parts of Asia, shark fin soup is considered a delicacy. It is traditionally served at weddings, but it's also a way for the newly wealthy to show their status. The problem is, the number of people in Asia who are entering the middle-class and can now afford to eat more shark fin soup has grown exponentially in the past decades and - as Jaymi explains in her post about shark finning - there are between 73 and 100 million sharks killed every year, mostly just for their fins. Because sharks are top predators, they are crucial to oceanic ecosystems.

Conservationists have long tried to either ban or at least regulate the practice, with various levels of success, and to convince people living where the most shark fin soup is consumed to leave it off the menu. There has been some signs of progress, as Alex wrote about last April:

A new survey has encouraging results for those concerned about the fate of world shark populations: it looks like the consumption of shark fin soup is dropping. The dish is considered a luxury status-symbol and usually served at weddings and other formal occasions. But now, of 1,000 residents of Hong Kong, 78% responded that they found it "acceptable" or "very acceptable" to leave the delicacy off the menu at a wedding.

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This is important because Hong Kong is the shark fin capital of the world. A lot of it is traded through the city, with most of it going to mainland China.

"The catches are not tracked at all, and there is no species monitoring or labelling," said Stanley Shea, a campaigner with the marine environment group Bloom Association, to the Guardian. She conducted last year the most comprehensive survey to date of shark fin consumption in Hong Kong. "We don't even know how much of it is eaten here or ends up in mainland China."

DNA analysis showed that 40% of shark fin auctioned in Hong Kong comes from 14 species, all of which appear on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's "red list" of endangered species.

Education + Regulation

Some hotels in Hong Kong offer various discounts to couples who don't serve shark fin soup at their weddings, and there are various campaigns encouraging people to stop eating shark fins. But traditions always take a while to change, and the question is: Will it change fast enough to save many species of sharks from extinction. One option would be to use sustainable fishing practices, but I have a hard time imagining how that would work exactly. People don't seem very interested by the rest of the shark (they usually dump the mutilated body back in the water, leaving it to die from its wound), and I don't think sharks can be farmed (they can roam over very large areas).

As with many things, the best cure is probably information. A lot of people who eat shark fin soup probably wouldn't if they knew more about the problems that it causes.

Via The Guardian

See also: Taiwan Tightens Laws on Shark Finning, But Not Enough...

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Sharks