WWF Hong Kong Shark Fin Initiative

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > East Asia > China > Hong Kong

Summary

Hong Kong is one of the major world markets for shark fin, demand for which is pushing many shark populations into major decline across the world. In December 2007, WWF Hong Kong launched an awareness-raising campaign to reduce this demand with a shark factsheet featuring 26 organisations which had pledged not to buy or sell shark fin. Many of these organisations were prompted to develop such a policy after contact from WWF as part of the campaign.

The campaign, undertaken as part of WWF’s Seafood Choice Initiative, was the first ever sustained shark conservation initiative in Hong Kong. This project aims to build on that work to further reduce consumer demand for shark fin.

Background

Shark populations around the world are in rapid decline due to the enormous demand for shark fins from Asia, with Hong Kong at the centre of this trade. Bolstered by the China-led economic boom, the global trade in shark fins products has soared in recent years, with an annual growth of about 5% per year. As a result, it is estimated over 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily for their fins.

Sharks grow relatively slowly, take many years to mature and produce relatively few young. These characteristics make sharks particular vulnerable to overfishing, and populations simply cannot replenish at the same rate as they are caught and finned to meet market demand.

By 2007, 114 species or 20.4% of all shark and related species were listed on the IUCN Red List as threatened with extinction on a global scale. Fishing is the major threat for most species. The number of threatened shark species listed on the IUCN Red List has increased 8 fold in just 11 years. Three shark species (basking shark, whale shark and great white shark) were listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2006.

By February 2008 it was announced that 9 new species of sharks, including the once common scalloped hammerhead, tiger, dusky and bull sharks, are to be added to the IUCN Red List’s categories of species at global risk of extinction. Research by Dr Baum and colleagues found numbers of tiger, bull, dusky, smooth and scalloped hammerhead shark have collapsed by 95-99% off the US east coast since 1970. The demand for shark fin in Asia was identified as a major factor.

There are currently no fisheries for sharks known to be sustainable under the principles of ecosystem based management, although there are no intrinsic reasons why this cannot be achieved. Therefore, it is only by reducing demand that shark populations will be conserved, assuring their vital role as top predators in worldwide marine ecosystems.

Demand for shark fin soup is at an all-time high in Hong Kong, and it has escalated phenomenally in recent years. Being the major entry port for China, Hong Kong has long been the world’s largest shark fin trading centre, handling at least half of the global trade which is estimated to be 10,000 tonnes of shark fins.

According to a survey conducted by polling company TNS for WWF in 2005, it was estimated that nearly 80% of the Cantonese speaking public have consumed shark fin, and most of this was at celebrations and other gatherings. As a staple dish for Chinese cuisine, and as Hong Kong thrives economically, the consumer base for shark fin continues to expand in Hong Kong.

Objectives

To reduce domestic consumption of shark fin in Hong Kong from unsustainably managed sources by 20% by 2011.

Solution

To address the concerns of the worldwide decline of shark populations, WWF has been working towards sustainable fisheries and leading the fight to save the world’s sharks. This project supports the ongoing WWF Hong Kong Seafood Choice Initiative, which uses a seafood consumer guide as the primary tool to engage the public, and to work with the seafood trade to switch from unsustainably harvested product (categorized as “Avoid” in the seafood guide), to sustainably harvested product and particularly that from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries.

A leaflet, 'Master of the Sea No More', has been produced to act as a tool to educate the public about the problems of shark fisheries and threats facing shark species.

The key message in the leaflet is for a voluntary halt to the consumption of shark fin soup and other shark products in Hong Kong. WWF Hong Kong believes this simple voluntary ban is the best current stop-gap measure, as shark populations are in rapid decline, and no sustainable sources of shark are available.

Achievement

The 3 major successes of the Seafood Choice Initiative are:

1. At least 39 companies in Hong Kong have publicly announced they will not sell or buy shark fins and will not consume shark fins for corporate sponsored dining activities.

2. Over 50,000 copies of the ‘Master of the Sea – No More’ leaflet have been downloaded from the WWF website.

3. More than 25,000 copies of the ‘Master of the Sea – No More’ leaflet were distributed to schools, corporations and restaurants.

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