Shark fin off the menu

A prestigious hotel chain has taken a bold step on behalf of the beleaguered shark, writes Justin McCurry.

The campaign to save the global shark population has received a boost after one of Asia's leading hotel chains said it would stop serving shark-fin dishes from next month.

The Peninsula group's holding company, Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Limited, says it will no longer sell the dishes, considered a delicacy in Hong Kong and other parts of the region, "in recognition of the threat facing the global shark population and in line with the company's sustainability vision".

The move will affect the group's nine hotels, including those in China and Hong Kong, the centre of the global shark-fin market.

Hong Kong handles between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of the global trade in shark fins, bringing in catches from more than 100 countries, with Spain its biggest supplier. In 2006, it took delivery of more than 10,000 tonnes worth $276 million, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Most is consumed in Hong Kong and Taiwan but also in provinces of mainland China, such as Guangdong, where its consumption has become a status symbol among China's new rich.

Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels said it would honour requests for shark-fin soup made as part of bookings by guests before November 21 for consumption after January 1.

The dish, which comprises pieces of rehydrated shark fin in a rich broth, is a

popular staple at wedding parties and formal banquets, with a serving for 12 people costing about $138.

In districts of Hong Kong such as Sheung Wan, which specialises in dried seafood, premium shark fin can fetch up to $1280 a kilogram. One Sheung Wan wholesaler claimed recently that the market price had dropped by about 20 per cent in the past two months, partly as a result of the campaign.

About 73 million sharks are killed every year and the appetite for their fins in places such as Hong Kong has taken one in three shark species to the brink of extinction.

The push to remove the delicacy - prized more for its glutinous texture than its taste - has gathered momentum after a slow start, according to the conservation group WWF, which says 97 caterers and hotels have signed up to its alternative shark-free menu in the past year.

The Peninsula announcement came as the European Commission called for a ban on shark finning - the practice of cutting off a shark's fin and throwing its body back into the sea. EU countries are responsible for about 14 per cent of the global shark catch, the second-largest share.

- Guardian News & Media

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