At last, green groups win on shark fins. Or, maybe not…

A drop in shark fin soup consumption came too late for this one.
A drop in shark fin soup consumption came too late for this one.
Image: Reuters/Ben Nelms
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Shark fin imports to Hong Kong have dropped 20 to 30%, thanks, apparently, to a campaign involving Greenpeace and other groups that has persuaded many major airlines to refuse to carry fins as freight, a Hong Kong industry group said this week.

Dubai’s Emirates banned transport of shark fins on their cargo flights in June, and Australia’s Qantas banned them in May, two of a dozen airlines crimping shark fin imports in Hong Kong, where half of all of shark fins are consumed. The bans are devastating “very poor” fishermen in the coastal areas of India, Africa and Latin America, Ricky Leung Lak-kee, chairman of the Hong Kong Marine Products Association, told the Sunday Post.

He stressed that the fisherman have no other work. “If they were not poor, they would not go out fishing for sharks,” he said. Environmental groups “protect the shark but they never think about the livelihood of these poor people.”

But a drop in demand, not supply, may actually be the the reason for the reduction. Consumption of shark fins in China, the world’s largest consumer of the product, dropped 70% since the end of 2012, according to official figures, state news agency Xinhua reported this month. A nationwide crackdown on extravagant official spending has driven down consumption of shark fin soup at banquets and restaurants.

In August, India, the world’s second-biggest catcher of sharks, banned “finning,” the practice of hacking off just the fin of the shark and throwing the rest of the animal overboard, where it either drowns or bleeds to death. The ban and the Greenpeace campaign may have less of an impact on fisherman in India than overfishing already has, though.

Fin exports from India were already dropping, down to $4.8 million in 2012 from $11.3 million in 2010, because there are fewer sharks in the water to kill, fishermen reported to environmental groups.