China Places Ban On Shark Fin Soup
July 5, 2012

China Places Ban On Shark Fin Soup

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Chinese officials on Tuesday said the country will ban shark fin soup from government banquets and official state dinners within three years -- an announcement that has been welcomed by marine protection advocates, but has drawn backlash from others, who see it as a lowball attempt to obscure the facts.

China´s Government Offices Administration of the State Council (GOASC) will issue guidelines of the move, reported. An official with the GOASC said the guidelines, which instruct all levels of government agencies to stop serving the popular delicacy at banquets, will be available within one to three years, according to the media report.

The official added that GOASC will cooperate with financial departments to restrict expenses on luxury food at such events, and impose stronger supervision over banquets funded with public money.

State-operated news agency Xinhuanet reported that it remains unclear how widely the ban will be adhered across an extensive country where government orders are often shrugged off by officials in far-away provinces.

Still, it is being hailed as a bold and positive move by environmental activists. Experts have longed warned that the soaring popularity and demand for shark fin soup over the past two decades has endangered the shark populations around the world.

“This is a very positive step forward,” said Andy Cornish, director of conservation at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Hong Kong. “It is the first time that the Chinese central government has expressed a decision to phase out shark fin from banquets funded by taxpayers´ money.”

This move will send an important signal to consumers in China, he added.

Animal protection group Humane Society International said in a statement on its website that this news “marks a watershed moment for the global movement to protect sharks and pushes China onto the world's stage as an emerging leader in shark conservation.”

Shark fin soup, brewed from dried shark fins, is rather bland but has a considerable standing as a status symbol. For many Chinese denizens, it is considered a must-have at lavish banquets, celebrating everything from weddings and anniversaries, to corporate meetings, to state-run events.

Hong Kong, the main hub of the fin trade, sees retailers charging from $260 - $600 per pound, meaning the average cost for one bowl of soup is at about $43 (as a pound makes about 10 bowls of soup). As economic growth has exploded in the region, many more have been able to join the ranks of those who can afford such a delicacy. In turn, more pressure is put on retailers to bring in more fins, which in turn, puts increased stress on the shark populations.

In an effort to conserve depleting shark populations, several countries have already enacted bans on the fishing of sharks. And several US states have banned the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins. In Hong Kong, several high-end restaurants and hotels have also taken shark fin soup off the menu in response to growing public awareness.

Citing figures from conservation group WildAid, the Chinese government said some 70 million sharks are slain every year for their fins alone. This has placed at least 17 percent of known species of shark on the verge of extinction.

According to figures from the WWF Shark Fin Initiative, more than 180 species of shark are threatened with extinction, listed either on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List, or the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“The Hong Kong government has repeatedly dodged the question of implementing a banqueting ban on shark fin soup, saying that it sees no need for such guidelines,” Cornish told Terril Yue Jones at the NY Times. Whether Hong Kong follows in the footsteps of Beijing´s decision is yet to be seen, he noted.

Ding Liguo, deputy to the National People´s Congress (NPC) and the billionaire executive chairman of Delong Holdings Ltd., first proposed banning shark-fin trades in March 2011. In September 2011, pro basketball player Yao Ming and British entrepreneur Richard Branson launched their own campaign against the shark fin trade.

Guo Guangchang, an NPC deputy who wants shark fin banned from banquets believes it may also harm human health. “It's difficult for the human body to absorb the nutrient in shark fin, plus there are excessive levels of lead and mercury in it,” he said.

“As the world´s largest market for shark fins, China holds the key to the survival of many shark species,” said HSI president and CEO Andrew Rowan.

“Tens of millions of sharks have their fins cut off and are thrown back into the ocean, often while still alive, only to drown, starve or die a slow death due to predation from other animals,” notes the HSI. “Sharks are apex predators who are slow to reproduce and whose survival affects all other marine species and entire ocean ecosystems. The practice of shark finning is global and has led to a severe decline in shark populations.”

Despite China´s efforts to curb shark fin soup, the timeframe has been criticized sharply online.

“You have to wait three years to do this?” demanded Wu Yaxue, a psychologist in Beijing, on his microblog account. “Given the way Chinese civil servants eat, in three years you won't need to enforce this ban; the shark fin will be all gone.”

Several Chinese sites like Sina and Weibo offer Chinese netizens a rare opportunity to openly discuss pertinent issues, especially on the lifestyle of the communist party elite, though many face stiff penalties and the threat of arrest if they push the envelope too far.

Others criticized the government´s decision to ban shark fins as an attempt to save money rather than save a threatened species, a sore topic in a country where a growing wealth gap has caused social unrest.

“This just proves that solving the problems of housing, the elderly, the environment, corruption, employment, education, health care, food safety, migrant workers, stock markets, buying train tickets, and banning shark's fin and expensive rice wine are all more difficult than launching a rocket into outer space,” Heng in South Korea posted on Weibo, referring to China's recent manned space mission to the experimental Tiangong-1 space lab.