Anti-corruption crackdown on extravagant official spending partly responsibleNumbers from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce show a 70% drop in the consumption of shark fins in China. Official data from China is never entirely trustworthy, but numbers out of Hong Kong also show a 20-30% drop in shark fin imports, so something definitely seems to be going on, even if the magnitude of the change isn't entirely clear. Some of it is no doubt due to a campaign by Greenpeace to convince airlines to stop carrying fins, but it also looks like a Chinese anti-corruption effort to curb spending by officials on banquets has also reduced demand for shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy there.
Zhao Ping, the deputy director of the Department of Consumption Economy Studies at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Co-operation, believes up to 50 per cent of the drop in shark fin consumption is a result of cutbacks in government-related dining.
“Many companies host business banquets and their target is the government officials who have money and who have the authority to gain approval for projects,” Mr Zhao told the Xinhua news agency. “Since Chinese New Year this year, shark fin soup in the luxury hotels or restaurants has declined 70 per cent and the sales in some of the special shark fin restaurants … have declined by 50 per cent.” (source)
This is great, but attitudes also need to change, otherwise the problem will just come back as soon as these restrictions are gone.
The Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming has done much to change attitudes in China with his public opposition shark fin, as have high-profile campaigns featuring Hong Kong singers and TV stars, but campaigners are concerned that the recent fall in consumption does not represent a sea-change in public attitudes.
Lets hope that this is the beginning of a new long-term trend and not just a bump in the road, because sharks truly need a break if they are to survive. "Up to 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins alone, and 44 species of shark in Chinese waters are endangered or face extinction."
Ricky Leung Lak-kee, chairman of the Hong Kong Marine Products Association, complains that the reduction in shark fin consumption hurts poor fishermen in places like India, Africa and Latin America, but that argument doesn't hold water. Otherwise, does it means that being poor allows you to do anything? What if tiger poachers are poor? Should they be allowed to keep killing an endangered species just so some wealthy people can make esoteric potions with their bones or hang their skins on their walls?
We definitely need to help poor fishermen find a sustainable way to earn a living. Encouraging them to fin sharks isn't a solution.