Shark lovers left high and dry

Updated: 2011-11-28 11:08

By Yang Yijun (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - Several luxury hotels and popular restaurants have decided to take shark fin soup - a traditional delicacy on banquet tables - off the menu to help keep the species from becoming extinct.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Ltd (HSH), parent company of The Peninsula Hotels, said that it will stop serving shark fin on Jan 1 at all of its eight hotels globally, including one in Shanghai, one in Beijing and one in Hong Kong.

Shark lovers left high and dry

A worker puts shark fins into baskets at a processing plant in Wenzhou city, East China's Zhejiang province. [Photo / China Daily] 

HSH said the decision was made "in recognition of the threat facing the global shark population and in line with the company's sustainability vision".

A spokeswoman for the Peninsula Shanghai who declined to give her name told China Daily that removing the dish from the menu will have a very limited impact on the hotel's food and beverage profits.

"We will replace shark fin soup with some other precious ingredients such as abalone and sea cucumber," she said.

Swissotel Beijing has also decided to ban shark fin soup. "Our restaurant stopped selling shark fin soup at the beginning of November to protect sharks," said Zhang Lei, staff member of the Chinese cuisine department at the five-star Swissotel Beijing.

"We saw retired NBA star Yao Ming's public service advertisement against eating shark fin soup and became aware of shark protection," Zhang said.

"Also, the number of customers ordering shark fin soup has decreased recently. They may be aware of the environmental protection problem as well."

The Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel Shanghai, which opened in March, never featured shark fin on its menus. And popular Chinese restaurant South Beauty stopped serving shark fin soup in September.

"We will not serve shark fin soup even if the guest requests it for a banquet," said Shen Xiaoyan, supervisor of South Beauty's Shanghai City Center outlet.

The culinary industry's move has been lauded by animal protection organizations.

WildAid, a wild animal conservation organization that has pursued a shark protection campaign for more than a decade, said in a newsletter that the ban on shark fins "exemplifies how businesses can become leaders in conservation, dissuading people from purchasing wildlife products and spreading awareness of the detrimental effects of the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade".

According to WildAid, up to 73 million sharks are killed every year to meet the increasing demand for shark fin soup. As a result, about one-third of the open-ocean shark species are threatened with extinction, with certain species experiencing a 99 percent population decline.

When their fins are hacked off, sharks are often still alive. The sharks, whose meat is not considered as valuable as their fins, are thrown back into the water to drown or bleed to death.

Other major hotels in Hong Kong said they were reviewing their policies in the wake of the Peninsula's move, but few appeared ready to drop shark fin soup from the menu entirely.

Four Seasons Hotel spokeswoman Claire Blackshaw said that shark fin had been removed from the menu but was still available on request. "We are a popular venue for weddings so it gets requested quite a lot," she was quoted by AFP as saying.

The Conrad, part of the Hilton group, the Nikko and Regal Hongkong hotels have similar policies, with some offering a choice of menus with and without shark fin dishes.

However, some hotels in Shanghai have refused to take shark fin soup off the menu, even though some customers urged them to do so.

Tang Yi, a 26-year-old employee with a State-owned enterprise, booked a wedding banquet for next year at the Howard Johnson Caida Plaza Shanghai. The hotel refused his request to take shark fin soup off the menu.

"I cannot bear to eat shark fin soup after I saw the documentary Oceans that had a segment showing how sharks' fins were cruelly sliced off and the fish thrown back into the ocean.

"However, the hotel insisted that the banquet would be degraded without the shark fin soup. They were not willing to look for alternatives either," he said.

"I don't think people really love the taste of the soup. Their passion for shark fin soup is only because it kind of represents luxury."

Luo Wangshu contributed to this story.