Attitudes Shifting on Shark Fin Soup

Publication: The International Herald Tribune

Author: Bettina Wassener


04/24/2011 -  Few things epitomize the burgeoning affluence and consumerism of the swelling middle class in mainland China as well as the soaring sales of luxury handbags, cars, and shark fin soup. Yes, shark fin soup.

Once a delicacy confined to the upper echelons of Chinese society, the pricey soup is considered a must-serve at the lavish banquets that mark big occasions like weddings or corporate celebrations. And thanks to the galloping economic growth China has achieved since the 1990s, the soup is within the financial reach of millions of newly prosperous people.

The result has been severe overfishing. Scientists estimate that many millions of sharks are killed every year, primarily for their valuable fins.

Add to that the fact that these creatures reproduce slowly, and you get a sharp decline in global shark populations, to the extent that some scientists say about 30 percent of all shark species are in danger of extinction. And because sharks are at the top of the food chain, their declines have a profound effect on the balance of marine ecosystems.

Clearly, we have a problem. So the fact that shark fin soup is losing its appeal in Hong Kong is at least a snippet of good news.

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Hong Kong is not a key player in the actual fishing of sharks. The list of top fishing nations includes Argentina, France, India, Indonesia, Spain and the United States, according to a report by the wildlife monitoring network Traffic and the Pew Environment Group, published in January.

But the city is the main hub for the world’s shark fin trade. About 9,000 tons of fins, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, are imported each year, according to government statistics. So what happens in Hong Kong matters globally.

Read the full article Attitudes Shifting on Shark Fin Soup on the The New York Times' Web site.

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