Saving Sharks from the Banquet Table

Blacktip sharks

Jim Zhang is the Greater China and Northeast Asia Managing Director for The Nature Conservancy.

The Chinese government recently passed what is possibly the most important action regarding the future of sharks on our planet. On June 18, 2012, China’s State Council announced the ban on consuming shark fins at official government related banquets.

Somewhere between 70 and 100 million sharks are killed every year solely for the sale of shark fins. This global massacre of sharks has already caused severe damage to the global marine environment and has sent shark numbers plummeting. China (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) makes up over 95% of global shark fin consumption. China consumes 16,000 tons of shark fins annually, while government related meals make up 60-70% of that figure.

Shark fin has long been considered a delicacy in Chinese culture, enjoyed by society’s elite and espoused for nutritional content – though we now know it no more nutritious than poultry or eggs. For many years, its high price ($100 – $600 per pound) kept consumption of shark fin low enough for there to be minimal damage to world shark populations. But many blame the drastic decline in global shark populations on the rapid increase in shark fin consumption here over the last two decades following China’s spectacular economic growth.

Countless individuals and organizations have fought tirelessly for years to reduce shark fin consumption in China, but these efforts have only chipped away at the spike in demand. We all knew it would take government action to truly make an impact, and this news is a huge step in the right direction.

This incredible news is the result of petitioning China’s National People’s Congress (NPC). We first advocated for shank fin bans in early 2011 at the annual government “two sessions” of the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). This approach quickly hit setbacks as legislation like this would involve so many sectors (trades, customs, health, forestry, agriculture, and more). This resulted in a situation where no one took concrete responsibilities, thus making it impossible to implement what was proposed within a short time.

In early 2012, we adjusted our focus and approach onto soliciting the NPC to directly take charge on receiving proposals and conducting concrete actions. A new proposal was submitted by over 30 NPC delegates and received an official response promoted widely throughout the Chinese media; shark fin would be banned from all government related banquets and this regulation will take effect within the next three years.

To the pleasant surprise of so many shark advocates, this topic that was just slowly gathering attention was now announced throughout the media and instantly put in the spotlight. Cities began to follow suit. Qingdao pledged to become a “shark fin free city” with residents of Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian and other cities urging their locales to do the same. Now two of China’s higher-end restaurant chains have recently joined a “zero shark fin” coalition, agreeing to not only remove shark fin from their menus, but also promote the reasons for doing so.

This is all great news, but we must ride this wave of enthusiasm and continue promoting the importance of sharks and the tremendous damage caused by shark finning.

[Image: Blacktip sharks. Image source: Kydd Pollock]

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