CREDIT: AP/Kin Cheung
China has banned shark fin soup and bird’s nest soup from official banquets, a move that’s meant to cut back on extravagances in government spending but that could have significant environmental benefits.
The ban is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crack-down on corruption and lavish spending in the Chinese government, and also stipulates that cigarettes and expensive liquors are prohibited from official dinners. But the ban on shark fin soup, in particular, comes a year after the country pledged to ban the soup from official banquets and after several years of outcry from within China and throughout the world over the cruelty and grave environmental consequences of the dish.
“It’s a commendable decision and a brave one that the Chinese government has taken,” Alex Hofford, executive director of Hong Kong-based MyOcean, told Agence France-Presse. “It’s going to have a great impact on society, because what the government does shows leadership in society and then the corporate sector will quickly follow suit.”
According to conservation group WildAid, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year solely so that their fins can be sold for shark fin soup, 95 percent of which is consumed in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As recently as 2006, as the Washington Post reports, many Chinese citizens didn’t even know the soup came from sharks — 80 percent, according to one poll, were unaware of the origin of the soup’s key ingredient.
But after WildAid launched a campaign in the country against the soup, using celebrities such as Chinese professional basketball player Yao Ming to speak out against the harm the soup causes shark populations and the oceans overall, the tide began turning in China. In January 2012, luxury hotel chain Shangri-La Asia announced it would ban shark fin soup from all 72 of its hotels. Several high-end restaurants and hotels have followed suit, and in September, Hong Kong announced a ban on shark fin soup (as well as the increasingly rare bluefin tuna and black moss) at government functions.
Far from all restaurants and hotels in China have banned the soup, but overall demand has dropped off in recent years. This is good news for sharks, whose populations have been decimated by the shark finning trade, a fishing practice that is considered one of the cruelest and most wasteful, as fins are often cut off from live sharks, who are then thrown back into the ocean to die. Some shark populations have declined by 98 percent in the last 15 years due to finning, and all 14 species most commonly caught for their fins are now at risk of extinction. As a top marine predator, their drastic drops in numbers put considerable stress on an ocean ecosystem already at major risk from acidification and over-fishing.