A new report from WildAid, a non-profit dedicated to reducing the demand for wildlife products, finds that the market for shark fin has declined over the past two years. The report of slowing demand for shark fin is consistent with numbers released by Chinese officials last year.
Shark fin soup is served as a delicacy in China, where it can fetch prices as high as $100 a bowl. The practice of finning is driving several species of sharks towards extinction, and WildAid estimates that as many as 73 million sharks are killed for their fins each year. After capture, many sharks have their fins cut off while still alive, and are dumped back into the sea to bleed to death.
WildAid conducted market research by interviewing wholesale and retail vendors in the Guangzhou, China, one of the most popular trading posts for shark fin. They found a 47 percent drop in the retail price of shark fins and a 57 percent drop in wholesale prices. Vendors reported a 82 percent decline in sales and prices paid to fishermen have also declined.
Tracking this market can be a challenge, as much of the trade in shark products is unregulated and undocumented in China. Exports from Hong Kong to China, another indicator of shark fin demand, have dropped by 90 percent in just the past year, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Hong Kong operation.
There may be several reasons why demand shrank over the past two to three years. According to a consumer survey commissioned by WildAid, public awareness campaigns were cited as the most common reason responders had stopped consuming shark fin. WildAid's celebrity campaigns featuring stars like Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and David Beckham have been particularly successful.
There may be other possible drivers as well. Matthew Zuras links the drop to the government’s efforts to cut down on corruption, including lavish gifts and banquets—where shark fin soup would likely be featured on the menu. The government banned shark fin from all state dinners in 2012, which may have contributing to raised awareness about the problems associated with overfishing sharks. Consumer fears about fake shark fin products were also mentioned in the WildAid report.
However, if China’s government were serious about protecting endangered sharks, they would ban the sale of shark products completely.