Reply To: Hong Kong Disneyland shark fin soup controversy


from Brian Darvell:

There are many shark conservation organizations out there. You might like to see and The English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong, through their Enviroment Committee have picked this up. Children will now be debating the apparent attitude of Disney, the role of unsustainable traditions in a changing world, and the conservation of sharks. 

IUCN Resolution 3.116 refers to the practice of shark finning and recommends means to promote the sustainable management of shark fisheries; encouraging diners to question the sustainability of fin harvest for soup; and to encouraging consumers to make responsible dining choices. The US accepted this resolution.

The HK Government … has been remarkably quiet. This is not a surprise since it has yet to work out where it stands on such issues. On the one hand, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has a number of roles, including: Nature Conservation and Country Parks Aim The aim is to conserve flora, fauna and natural habitats, including marine habitats; to manage country parks, special areas, marine parks and marine reserves; and to control the international trade in endangered species of animals and plants in Hong Kong. But then, they have "a view to maximising yields" as part of their primary function.

Curiously, the "Endangered Species Advisory Committee" has as a "Non-official Member", one Mr. CHIU Ching-cheung, who is – Chairman, Sharks Fin Trade Merchants Association – Committee Member, Sharkfin and Marine Products Association Ltd – Proprietor, Kwong Cheung (Shark’s Fin) Does he have specialist knowledge about endangered species? I wonder whether we can expect impartial, unbiased advice from him. Are there no rules about conflict of interest?

On the other hand, the HK Tourist Board promotes the consumption of shark fin soup at every opportunity, denies that advertising in this way is promotion, and refuses to accept that it is instrumental in contributing to this destructive fishery. The Funnies A legislator for the catering industry and the president of a restaurant trade group have backed Disney, saying it is being unfairly pilloried and would be a "laughing stock" if it did not offer the dish. Tommy Cheung, the legislator representing Hong Kong’s catering sector, said: "I don’t believe sharks are an endangered species. Some species of shark may be, but not all shark’s fin comes from certain species. There are a lot of species that are plentiful. I am not aware why people are making so much fuss about Disney.

Many restaurants are serving shark’s fin, so why pick on Disney?" Cheung said it was unreasonable to expect the theme park to offer Chinese banquets without offering the dish. "Chinese tradition is that you put shark’s fin on the table," he said. "If you don’t, you are not respecting the guests you invite. It is a matter of face." David Ng, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said that people holding wedding banquets could be made to seem a "laughing stock" if they did not offer shark’s fin. "This is the traditional culture of Chinese people, and you can’t say it is right or it is wrong," he said. "No Chinese banquet would be complete without shark’s fin soup. It is a dish that dates back maybe hundreds of years. You must treat your guests properly," he said. There are several issues here that require a response.

So, both Disney and wedding couples would be a "laughing stock" if shark fin was not available? Not only are you to be decried for failing to serve the chicken soup with bits in, you are to be laughed at as being seriously out of touch with the economic and cultural reality of Hong Kong. The logic of this is difficult to follow. The point seems to be that if one professes care for the environment and conservation one is somehow not reasonable or respectful. I was under the impression it was the reverse. One is meant therefore to uphold an iconic dish as showing respect when the icon stands for mutilation, suffering, waste, failure to propagate, conspicuous consumption, profiteering and crime – without even mentioning conservation. If this is the icon for the marriage that is being celebrated, it will be a sad life indeed. Surely, it is showing more respect for one’s guests not to serve endangered species and avoid causing them embarassment? Surely, Disney and wedding parties will be applauded warmly and gain face for standing firm on principles in the face of irrational exhortations to be otherwise.

A further point is the long-established Chinese respect for and seeking after balance with nature. Is that not the point of Feng Shui, of Yin and Yang and cosmic harmony? Is this to be discarded like the shark’s body for the sake of a few moments of enjoyment of chicken soup and vinegar? Oh, and it is unfair to single out Disney? Of course, how careless of me. The point is that this example was so egregious that it could not be ignored, but that does not mean we do not sicken every time we see these fins displayed or the menu so embellished. Perhaps we should start a collection of names of hotels, restaurants, cruise liners, banks, clubs, philanthropic organizations, schools, Universities, airlines, conferences, trade dinners, parties…

To me, please, by email, whenever and wherever you find them. If you can do the research and find the principal contacts (email), and any other relevant data, I will collate the information and post it on the SCDC website and circulate it to you all as well. In fact, if you were to write yourself in the first instance, seeking a small menu correction, and report the reponse to me, it would be even better. There, as even-handed as they come. Tommy Cheung’s argument in part rests on his belief about the species that are taken and their abundance. However, mere belief in the face of data is difficult to sustain with a straight face.

Why let a good story be spoiled by the truth? Mr Cheung, could I suggest that you refer to the many sources of reliable information before making such absurd remarks. Perhaps you ought to talk to Mr Chiu Ching-cheung, who plainly is an authority in such things – after all, the government of Hong Kong relies on him. Mr Cheung does not understand the fuss. Does he not see contradiction in Disney’s apparent stance? Does he not see inconsistency? I can only assume that he has not actually read any of the relevant material, or given thought to what it all means. Sadly, he belittles Chinese intellect by such remarks. "Chinese tradition" in Mr Cheung’s and Mr Ng’s view is driven by the need for restaurants to make a profit. The last part we cannot disagree with, but the premise is faulty. Is it really the case that consideration for restaurateurs’ profits overrides all others? Can he seriously be arguing that something that was acceptable in the past is valid now? Could I therefore suggest that he introduce bills into the Legislative Council for slaves to be employed in restaurant kitchens as they are much cheaper to run; that pigs be permitted to be slaughtered on the pavement outside to ensure that the meat is fresh; and that traditional fertilization of green vegetables be allowed as this will lower costs?

We look forward to cheaper, fresher, healthier meals. On the other hand, I do not hear much of a clamour for the serving of bear paws, live monkey brains, turtles and other such "delicacies". Do our trade representatives not think that these should be reintroduced on cultural grounds? By the way, I am thinking of reintroducing human sacrifice…

Basically, there is no evidence in their remarks, presumably meant to shame Disney into being respectful of the trade’s primary drive – profit (and shark fin soup profits are huge!) – of a balanced rational view, respectful of current knowledge, respectful of current attitudes, respectful of learned bodies’ resolutions, respectful of the environment, respectful of the need for conservation, respectful of the idea of a sustainable trade. Please, do not talk to me about respect. [/url]