Wildlife Update : Shark-Fin Vote Adds to Pressure on Hong Kong

A dried shark fin on display with dried sea cu...
Image via Wikipedia

From The International Herald Tribune ….

As Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in Sunday’s Times, the battle to protect the world’s endangered shark population has passed another major milestone with a California Senate vote that bans the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins.

Last week’s vote was greeted with much delight by environmental campaigners. The global shark population has been decimated over recent years, largely because of soaring demand for shark fin soup among the newly wealthy in China, Hong Kong and other Asian nations. Soup made from shark fins is considered a delicacy and a status symbol in Chinese culture and commands hefty prices that make finning highly lucrative.

The California bill now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. If he follows through, California will become the largest economy in the world to take a strong stand against the shark fin trade so far, according to the New York-based group Shark Savers. Hawaii, Washington and Oregon have also banned imports of shark fins, which means that the measure could officially close down shark-fin traffic in all remaining ports on the West Coast.

Elsewhere in the world, Chile and the Bahamas recently banned shark fishing in their waters, and Taiwan introduced legislation in July to regulate the trade by requiring that fins be landed with the full carcass attached. (Fins, the most lucrative part of the animal, are frequently cut off by fishermen while the shark is still alive, leaving it to die a painful death with no means of swimming.)

The pressure is now on Hong Kong, where I live, to follow suit -– if not with an outright ban, then at least with much clearer action to discourage the consumption of, and trade in, fins.

Hong Kong is believed to handle at least half the global trade in shark fins, making it the shark-fin capital of the world, so what happens here matters.
But to date, not much is happening -– at least not on the legislative front.

Asked whether the California decision might prompt action here, the Hong Kong government simply referred me to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Yet that agreement protects just three shark species rather than the many more that environmentalists say are now endangered.

The authorities seem out of step with many in the West and possibly with public opinion in Hong Kong itself: slowly but surely, awareness has risen, and the list of companies that have pledged not to buy or sell or buy shark fin soup as part of their corporate activities keeps growing.

The last time I queried the Hong Kong government on the issue, for a columnback in April, it response was, “We do not think it is appropriate to lay down guidelines to regulate the kind of food to be consumed in official banquets and meals.”

Yet the California decision has galvanized campaigners here. Six environmental organizations in Hong Kong issued a joint statement calling on the government to follow the state’s lead. “All eyes are now on Hong Kong,” it warned.

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