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That predatory hunger for shark’s fin

Imports of delicacy nearly doubled since 2003 despite campaigns
Lester Kok & Grace Chua The Strait Times 5 Feb 11;

EVERY Chinese New Year, campaigns by conservation groups ask diners to stop eating shark’s fin.

But recent figures show that Singapore’s imports of the delicacy have nearly doubled since 2003. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which supplied the numbers, said nearly 2,500 tonnes were imported last year, up from 1,300 tonnes eight years ago.

The figures include dried, salted and canned fins, and refer to those meant for both domestic consumption and export.

And last week, conservation group Traffic delivered more alarming news: a report that a decade-long United Nations shark conservation scheme has failed.

Shark’s fin importers here say that demand is rebounding, after a small dip due to 2009’s economic crisis.

The price of shark’s fin goes up 10 to 15 per cent a year, but demand is rising even quicker thanks to growing affluence in East Asia.

Mr Melvin Foo, managing director of seafood importer and exporter Sineurope, explained that 95 per cent of what he imports goes to places like Japan and China. Just two to three tonnes, or less than 5 per cent of his imports, are sold here.

All imports of sharks and shark’s fin are regulated through an AVA licensing scheme. According to Mr Foo, shark’s fins sold here must be landed along with the body of the shark, to prevent a practice known as live shark finning, where fishermen slice the fin off the fish and dump it back into the water. And, he says, demand for shark meat actually comes from Europe, where it is more valued and fins are considered waste.

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) wildlife conservation group would prefer sharks not to be eaten at all. In its Singapore Seafood Guide published in February last year, WWF Singapore advised people to choose seafood from sustainable sources and to avoid all shark products.

Its website, http://www.wwf.sg, states it is not aware of any shark fisheries that are sustainably managed.

A Singapore-tailored online campaign was also launched by the group last week: the ‘Say No to Shark Fin’ pledge.

Sharks are typically either caught deliberately or as accidental bycatch.

When overfished, their populations are slow to recover as they take a long time to reproduce and mature. And according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species, six species of shark are considered critically endangered, meaning their populations have declined by as much as 90 per cent in the past couple of decades.

But campaigns here are soldiering on.

The latest, by Project: FIN on social networking site Facebook, asks people to change their profile pictures to an image which reads: Celebrate Chinese New Year with no shark’s fin soup.

A year ago, the WWF launched its Sustainable Seafood Guide for Singapore, in which it noted that most shark fisheries were unregulated and many species were overfished.

And posts on government feedback site Reach have asked for all government functions not to serve shark’s fin.

Already, some hotels like those at Resorts World Sentosa do not serve the dish. The Fairmont Singapore has removed not only shark’s fin, but also Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna – which are also overfished – from its menu.

Other hotels like the Marriott are moving away from it. A spokesman said: ‘We have made a conscious decision to substantially reduce the number of shark’s fin dishes available on our a la carte menu.’

But the Marriott continues to serve shark’s fin when guests ask for it, out of respect for local culture and guest preferences, she added.

Still, hotels like the Marriott and Mandarin Orchard say more couples are asking for shark’s fin alternatives for their wedding banquets.

WWF Singapore’s managing director, Ms Amy Ho, said the practice of eating shark’s fin will stop only when the customers choose to stop.

She said sharks play an important role as top predators in the marine ecosystem, adding: ‘All these ecosystems are very important to preserve nature for future generations to come.’