Shark fin soup in Hong Kong updates

Following Disney's decision to remove shark fin soup from wedding banquet menus in Hong Kong Disneyland, Brian Darvell aiming for further progress on shark fin issue - hoping more establishments will drop the soup. Here's an update he's just sent by email: [quote]Disney Reflections We have had time for some reflection on Disney's decision to drop SFS from their wedding banquet menu, but while we are pleased at heir change of heart we should not feel that their position is not without some wriggling.

From http://news3.xinhuanet.com/english/2005-06/27/content_3141217.htm "Don Robinson, Hong Kong Disneyland's group managing director, said in a statement that the company's latest decision was "consistent with our ongoing commitment to conservation and responsible consumption practices." "Striking the right balance between cultural sensitivities and conservation has always been our goal," he said." The irony seems to have been lost on him. They swore blind that having it on the menu was also consistent. And there was precious little evidence that "balance" was an issue they took seriously, since they claimed it was respect for culture that forced their hand in the first place. All the intelligence I have received suggests that Disney are control freaks, and that it really irks that they could not contain this skirmish. We shall just have to keep a close eye on them in case of any backsliding. Can we trust them? By the way, this is the same Don Robinson who now claims he knows more about shark fin than most people. In just one day he personally received 3000 emails from protestors, and this crashed his email system. Well done, guys - nothing like a democratic education.

Onward As mentioned, and well taken up by Eric Bohm at WWF HK, hotels in HK are now being approached for a constructive response to the situation. However, according to the SCMP (2005-06-30): "Therese Necio-Ortega, director of communications at the JW Marriott in Hong Kong, said her hotel was looking at ways of encouraging people not to choose shark's fin, but said imposing an immediate ban on it would be impractical. Does that ring a bell? "We would have to explain to stakeholders why the [hotel's] revenue is going to be $100,000 less for the month," she said. "If we don't serve shark's fin, then the owners are going to say, 'Where can you recoup that $100,000?' Beyond that, what would happen to the shark's-fin trader? There must be alternative options before we just say, 'No, let's not serve it.' There must be positive solutions. We can't just leave some groups hanging. It is not fair." - which is where we started: profit. We have to ask whether the owners are happy with their complicity in the destruction of whole ecosystems for the sake of their money-grubbing? Will "stakeholders" be equally comfortable in making money out of a trade that is often criminal, certainly wasteful, and contradictory to any sense of balance and sustainability - as Disney have at last accepted? If you hold shares in such organizations knowingly, you share the blame. Impractical? Yes, it is not without pain that profit is given up for some minor conservationist issue. This is not a matter of fairness (read: somebody else making a profit that we have foregone!), it is a matter of taking a bold initiative, leading the way, demonstrating responsibility and a functioning conscience. Don't let greed for short term gain be the reason for long-term loss - for us all.

Reef Overfishing Just in case there is any doubt, there seem to be bigger issues than just sharks at stake: we are talking about the total collapse of reef ecosystems as real possibility. Recent studies are shoing that the removal of top predators has knock-on effects that we cannot calculate. Since the reefs provide a great deal of other food, as well as being part of even bigger systems, the prospects are indeed dire if "face" and ostentatious expenditure is allowed to continue to drive this destruction. See http://www.vanaqua.org/aquanew/fullnews.php?id=1967[/url] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/308/5728/1621[/url] See also "A cautionary tale for whalers" at the end of http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg18625043.900[/url] As Suzanne Gendron said: "We need sharks." Ignorance What is amazing is the number of people who have responded to this story by saying something like, "Where's the problem - sharks kill people, so it's alright to exterminate them, isn't it?" How sad. We have to work very hard to dispel the notion that we have any right to think like this. Going into a predator's domain has risks - very, very small as it happens in this case, compared with something like crossing the road or lightning strike. We are obliged to recognize those risks, not assume licence to drive species to extinction. Buffalo in Africa kill more people than do lions, but there are no calls to have them deleted from life's inventory. Coverage This continued for some time, gratifyingly, including a very interesting place: http://news3.xinhuanet.com/english/2005-07/04/content_3171628.htm[/url] We have sensitized the media to the issue, and we can all take advantage of this. Strike while the iron is hot. Let's see sparks!

Speaking of which, here's a bright one... Ken Hom Readers of the Guardian and others were treated to a routine, but predictably ignorant response by "celebrity" chef Ken Hom: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1516720,00.html[/url]  I wrote to the Guardian as follows: I think Ken Hom has missed the point entirely (The Guardian, 29th June). He accuses those who address a conservation issue of hypocrisy because there are many other problems that cry out for action that he perceives is not taken. It is true that caviar, cod, swordfish, and many others, are of great concern and that drastic action needs to be taken to rectify the problems. We are all responsible for this, whether or not we personally eat such things (and I do not). However, one step at a time. I saw this as a winnable battle that would establish a precedent, set an example, and both make a contribution to an overall view of the way in which we should manage our dwindling resources and show that it can be done. The mere fact that other problems exist does not mean we should not try to fix individual issues. It also clearly does not mean that consumption of endangered species is justified by the fact that governments and individuals lack a sense of stewardship and responsibility. It certainly does not mean that we are hypocritical for making a visible effort on one point at a time. This is part of an educational process, and Mr Hom, with his vast following, is in a strong position to contribute to it. So, will you come out and say it, Ken? Do not eat Shark Fin Soup. The Guardian did not see fit to print this, at least, it does not apear on their website. However, I think the chances of Mr Hom retracting his view are slight. Do a search for "Ken Hom" +shark +fin on Google and you get plenty of hits. There is a vested interest: http://www.kenhomcooks.com/newyear/celebrations.html A sumptuous main meal, on New Years Eve, usually begins in the late afternoon. There are lavish servings of vegetables, chicken, fish and seafood with every imaginable traditional condiment and delicacy. Wealthy families even serve sea cucumbers, shark's fin and giant pork meatballs called "lions heads". - including book sales: http://www.tenspeedpress.com/catalog/all/item.php3?id=546 There are tied restaurants as well:  Could anybody ascertain whether they serve shark fin soup in these establishments? If you can, ask the management to cease and desist in the name of survival. If not, a sticker on their windows would advertise their support for wanton death and destruction. An email address for Ken Hom himself would allow me to talk to him, if this can be found. Any knowledge out there?

I wonder where Martin Yan stands on this? According to [defunct link] "he certainly doesn't devour abalone, shark's fin or bird's nest every day" - which means he does some days. I think we could ask Martin for a similar declaration: do you have the guts, Mr Yan? Can you come out and say it? Do not eat Shark Fin Soup. If Disney can recant, so can Yan. (An email address for Mr Yan would also be useful, if anyone can oblige.) Local Action The Friends of Hoi Ha have written to Dr Sarah Liao, Secretary for Environment, Transport & Works, asking whether the HKSAR government can agree not to serve SFS at its official functions. "Therefore, we are calling upon the Hong Kong Government to follow the lead of Singapore and make a public statement that Sharks' Fin Soup will no longer be served at any Government banquets. The taking of this measure would enhance the Government's environmental credentials ..."

Dr Liao's official c.v. ( http://www.info.gov.hk/info/cv_setw_e.htm ) says: As SETW, Dr Liao is responsible for setting government policies in : • environmental protection and conservation first and foremost, so she has prime position for prompting the government to follow its own stated principles of sustainability and stewardship. I wonder if she has the strength of character? We can politely encourage her in this: Hall Of Fame - Retraction! You may recall that I was pleased to add a member to the Hall of Fame, the Mandalay Resort & Casino. Sadly, I have to retract that induction - Hall of Shame it is: http://www.scdc.org.hk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=65&Item... [mostly edited out here, as seems some confusion - see next missive, Martin] BWD http://www.scdc.org.hk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=65&Item...

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more from Brian Darvell:

[quote]It is gratifying to see that the ripples of the Disney episode are still spreading, with reference being made to the climb-down or capitulation being made in many media items.

Meanwhile, you will recall that we put the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas in the Hall of Fame for positive statements regarding Shark Fin Soup. With some shock we found that a webpage for one of their restaurants advertised it. I attempted to secure an explanation, but for a variety of reasons, that have now been explained, a response was very slow in getting back to me and I feared the worst. This led to a some 'change of status' announcements.

Now that contact has again be made, we have ascertained what went wrong, and I have been assured that double standards have not been operating. Accordingly, I am relieved to be able to make the following announcement.

Correction

I have been informed by Gordon M. Absher, of MGM MIRAGE Public Affairs, in respect of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, that the discrepancy between their public statement, that they do not and will not serve shark fin soup, and the Shanghai Lilly restaurant webpage menu that I reported on last time, was due to the fact that that page had not been updated in the five years since the item was withdrawn from the menu. That unfortunate oversight has now been corrected, as I indicated.

I offer my apologies to Mr Absher and his colleagues for any misrepresentation arising from that website error, withdraw earlier remarks doubting their honesty, and I have reinstated the establishment in the Hall of Fame. I am happy to accept that the original announcement was sincere. I trust the AZA will take note.

Blatant

At a corporate event at the Island Shangri-La (HK) recently, bowls of shark's fin soup were being hawked by waitresses in a way that gave the dish prominence over the rest of the food on offer. A gentle protest from several present was met with deaf ears and looks of derision.

Is it reasonable to suppose that hotels are being cynical in that they are happy to trumpet their supposed environmental credentials when it comes to things they cannot make money from - such as not washing towels needlessly - but not those from which they can make a profit.

Negotiations are in hand, and the first indications are positive.

Coverage

You might like to see:
[url]http://www.voanews.com/english/2005-06-30-voa4.cfm[/url]

In contrast, in [url]http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/06/30/opinion/edbowring.php[/url] , Philip Bowring exercises some of the standard sceptical arguments, and it is not worth going through them point by point yet again. It is amazing how repetitious this gets. However, he finishes by saying:
"Perhaps the rest of us can learn to live with each others' cultural and religious flesh eating habits and prejudices."

But that is just where he is wrong. Totally, absolutely, irrefutably. We will not live if the devastation continues by destructive fishing of this kind. We all lose.

Were these behaviours in isolation, with no effect on the rest of us, I doubt that many would care, so long as no cruelty were involved. However, it is a common heritage that is being plundered, it is our common life-support system that is being damaged, it is the rest of the world's fisheries that are being exploited (home grounds being now empty). Eating endangered species for someone's dubious gastronomic pleasure or economic pride is abhorrent. Everybody's future is affected.

Tolerance under these circumstances is out of place, if not complicit. It is not a case of "learning to live", but of "learning to die". I cannot see that as reasonable when it is the immediate profit of the traders and hotels and restaurants that is being defended. Mr Bowring plays into their hands by implying that we can ignore other's idiosyncrasies with impunity. Not so; as someone once said, nicely redundantly: extinction is for ever.

This update is going to go quiet for a while as I am taking some leave. However, we have in train a variety of possibilities, and we hope to report on those in due course.

BWD[/quote]

Very good to see in today's S China Morning Post that Hong Kong University will no longer serve shark's fin soup at banquets. Bit of a surprise this happens only now tho, given anti-shark's fin soup crusader Brian Darvell is a professor in the HKU dental school.

Sad to see in SCMP that there's obfuscation from former greenie (well, I'd thought so; she seems less and less green since becoming Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works [yes, all these thrown together]) Sarah Liao:
[quote]We support conservation...
We have no plans to remove shark's fin from [Hong Kong Government] menus yet...[/quote]
and now, drum roll please, the real gibberish:
[quote]We still think that in this part of the world we still haven't coome to any consensus as to whether we should accept a ban on the consumption of shark's fin.[/quote]
So, Sarah, you mean you - the HK Govt - don't really support conservation after all.

Ah, conservation - so easy to "support"; so hard to do.

[quote]BEIJING, Jan. 12 (Xinhuanet) -- China has no teams specialized in catching sharks, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture said here Thursday.

Li Yanliang, deputy director of the ministry's Fishing Department, told a press conference held by the Information Office of the State Council, that China's catching, import and export of sharks is conducted strictly in accordance with international laws.

He denied reports saying that Chinese fishermen throw sharks away after catching and cutting off their fins.

The Chinese government encourages a "rational and sustained" development of fish resources and the overall use of sharks, he said. It bans the partial use of sharks. Those found breaking the regulations are "severely" dealt with, he added.

Li admitted that the consumption of shark fin in China, a dish in upscale restaurants, is not declining, but pointed out that the government is considering listing some endangered sharks as protected animals.

In line with international conventions on endangered wild animals and plants, whale shark and white shark are listed as the world's second-class protected animals.[/quote]
[url=http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-01/12/content_4045449.htm]China denies cruelty in shark fishing[/url]

[quote]MANTA, ECUADOR - Early every morning, the cold water lapping up on the beach here is stained red with blood as surly, determined men in ragged T-shirts drag hundreds of shark carcasses off wooden skiffs and onto the white sand.

Using 8-inch boning knives with quick precision, they dismember the once-mighty predators, cutting off heads, carving up big slabs of meat, slashing off the tails. Most important, they cut off the fins — dorsal and pectorals — a "set" that can fetch $100 or more.

"[b]That is what is really important, the fins[/b]," said Luis Salto, 57, as he sliced up sharks. "They sell in China."

Indeed, the fins collected here are exported in a quasi-legal network to Hong Kong, Beijing, Taiwan, Singapore and other corners of Asian affluence. There, a heaping bowl of shark fin soup, touted as offering medicinal or aphrodisiac qualities, is dished up for as much as $200.
...

Some sharks, such as the hammerhead and the great white, have been reduced by upward of 70 percent in the past 15 years, while others, such as the silky white tip, have disappeared from the Caribbean.

"[b]If you go to any reef around the world, except for those that are really protected, the sharks are gone[/b]," said Ransom Myers, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

"Their value is so great that completely harmless sharks, like whale sharks, are killed for their fins."

Fins sell for as much as $700 per kilogram in Asia, making big sharks worth thousands of dollars. In the vast dried seafood market of Sai Ying Pun on Hong Kong Island on a recent day, shark fin stores had no shortage of buyers.

"Serving shark fins in banquets is a tradition for Chinese people," said Chiu Ching-cheung, chairman of the Shark Fin Trade Merchants' Association in Hong Kong. "Without shark fin, a Chinese banquet does not look like one at all."
...
While Asia's environmental movement has grown, with stars such as Jackie Chan and the director Ang Lee lending their names, environmentalists say educating the shark-eating public about overfishing remains an uphill battle.

With the vast waters off Asia largely depleted, fishermen are focusing on regions that still swarm with sharks, such as the cold, deep waters of the Pacific stretching from Peru north to Central America.

On a recent day here, Captain Nelson Laje, 42, piloted a 60-ton trawler, La Ahijada, into Manta's port, its hold filled with 150 blues and threshers, among the most common of Pacific sharks...
"They do not want us to capture the sharks, but we need them to pay our expenses and make a living," Laje said. "The shark, the fishing, will never end. Fishing will only end when the water ends."
...
By a conservative estimate, more than 279,000 pounds of shark fins, representing about 300,000 sharks, were exported from Ecuador to China and Hong Kong in 2003, twice as much as in the mid-1990s.
...
Ecuador's government has been unable to contain shark fishing, the exportation of fins or the internationally reviled practice of finning, where the fins of sharks are sliced off on the high seas and the carcass is left behind, environmentalists and the Environment Ministry say.

Alfredo Carrasco, an Environment Ministry official who oversees natural resources management, acknowledged that the lack of resources permits "illegal actions." He placed much of the blame on Asian countries, where importing the fins is legal.

"[b]As long as there is demand in Asian countries, this will continue[/b]," he said.

The fins move through a murky network of buyers, transporters, middlemen and exporters.

"Fins are what we need," said Alejandro Flores, La Ahijada's owner. "What else do we have? If we don't catch sharks, the people would have nothing to live off of."...[/quote]
[url=http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/world/3571429.html]Asians' taste for shark fins depleting species
The fishing and export trade of the delicacy thrive despite a 2004 ban by Ecuador[/url]

Martin Williams's picture

South China Morning Post today:

Hong Kong officials have refused a request by green groups to stop serving shark's fin at government banquets, saying they need to stay on good terms with the industry.

These officials were in the Agriculture, Fisheries and ... wait for it ... Conservation Dept.

George Orwell would surely have been unsurprised.