Citibank Cancels Shark Fin Promotion in Hong Kong

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It's more good news for sharks and further testimony of the power of social media campaigns: thanks to intense outcry from environmental groups and consumers, Citibank's Hong Kong division withdrew a special promotion last week that offered credit card holders 15 percent off a "shark's fin and garoupa dinner" at Maxim's, a Hong Kong restaurant chain. But from Yao Ming to the Hong Kong-based Facebook campaign calling to stop Citibank's shark fin promotion, it's apparent that Chinese consumers themselves are waking up to the negative impacts of the industry and are actively fighting to stop it. NYT reports:

[T]he episode has highlighted how rapidly public opinion has shifted on the issue, especially in Hong Kong, where much of the world's trade in the fins takes place.

''A few years ago, there may have been no reaction to Citibank ads promoting shark fin soup," Michael Skoletsky, executive director at Shark Savers in New York, said in an e-mail message. "Now, Citibank's fast response shows that companies can't fall behind an informed public on important environmental problems like shark fin soup.''

On the Facebook page, critics pointed out that Citibank's commitment to "promote environmental and social sustainability [as] good business practice" was contradicted by their offer to support restaurants that served shark fin.

Each year, it is estimated that 89 million sharks die after their fins are cut off and are thrown back into the sea, still alive but unable to swim. Sharks are an integral part of marine ecosystems, and shark hunting worldwide has reduced some shark populations by 90 percent in the last few decades.

But here's the clincher on the other hand: shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Asian culture and has been around since the Ming Dynasty. Suffice to say, shark fin is culturally embedded in Chinese cuisine, medicine and folklore - an institution of sorts that needs to be understood and addressed by activists worldwide, if the campaign to stop the shark fin trade is going to be realistically effective.

Environmentalism with a good dose of cultural sensitivity will go much farther in changing cultural tastes and gaining the support of Chinese consumers. But with awareness growing in places like Hong Kong (take a look at this trilingual video pledge to stop eating shark soup that debuted in Hong Kong recently) and Hawaii (which recently banned shark fin soup), there's hope in the water.

I Pledge Not To Eat Shark Fin Soup... Join Me! from WildSphere Productions on Vimeo.

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