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War of words brews over shark-fin trade

  • Staff Reporter
  • 2012-06-20
  • 08:49 (GMT+8)
A fisherman cuts the fin from a shark's body. (Photo/Xinhua)

A fisherman cuts the fin from a shark's body. (Photo/Xinhua)

Shark-fin traders and environmentalists in Hong Kong and China are in a war of words over the impact trading in fins has on the survival of shark species, as hoteliers and countries around the world launch a campaign against the trade.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, about 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in Chinese societies. Other environmental groups put the figure at between 26 million and 73 million. Sharks are typically caught and have their fins sliced off before being dumped back into the water to die.

To combat the hunting of sharks, 60 countries have taken measures to contain the practice. Some require sharks being brought ashore to be wholly intact, including their fins, and limit the number of licenses issued to ships for hunting.

A movement against the consumption of shark fins is brewing in China and particularly in Hong Kong, where an overwhelming majority of the trade in shark fins takes place.

Several hoteliers in Hong Kong have announced a boycott of shark fins. The Peninsula Hotel last November became the first major hotel chain to stop offering shark fin, while Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts stopped serving shark fins at all of its locations earlier this year.

112 corporations and organizations in Hong Kong have publicly declared that they will stop consuming shark fin.

In response, the Hong Kong-based Sustainable Marine Resources Committee of the Marine Products Association last year called a conference rebutting the attacks launched by environmental groups against the trade.

Groups supporting the trade dismissed the concerns of conservationists, discounting the links between shark fin consumption and the depletion of shark numbers. The committee's secretary-general Lin Dinggui contended that shark fins are a mere byproduct of the hunting of sharks and that shark meat is a major source of revenue for fishermen.

Citing the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora's regular discussions on species to be added to its protection list, Lin said the convention stills allows the hunting of sharks, and that of the more than 400 species of sharks in existence, only four were under supervision.

Lin also downplayed claims linking shark hunting and the depletion of the fish, saying, "The supply of sharks should decline if they are endangered, but we have found that the supply is stable."

Environmentalists countered these arguments, citing a dramatic decrease in the number of sharks worldwide, with the populations of species such as the oceanic whitetip shark in the Gulf of Mexico and hammerhead sharks in the Mediterranean Sea shrinking fast.

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