A Step in the Right Direction: Air China Prohibits the Importation of Shark Fins

The TerraMar Project - March 14, 2017 in TMP

A Step in the Right Direction: Air China Prohibits the Importation of Shark Fins
Photo: Ellmax Photos

Air China has become the first airline in China to forbid the importation of shark fins. This is a significant step towards the conservation of many shark species threatened by illegal shark-finning practices worldwide. The killing of sharks for their highly valued fins creates a tremendous and enduring impact on shark populations driving them to the edge of extinction. Sharks are among the ocean’s chief predators and play fundamental roles in their ecosystems, so their disappearance can have far-reaching consequences.

25 airlines and 17 global container shipping lines have also signed up to prohibit the shipment of shark fins, including China COSCO shipping corporation. The Chinese government has been making constant headway in order to limit the shark fin trade for a number of years. Air China Cargo stated that they have a ‘long standing commitment to engage in preserving a more sustainable world’.

An estimated 100 million sharks are slaughtered annually for their fins. In the process, the fish dies torturously, unable to move because of the removal of its fins, and is then savagely thrown back in the ocean to die.  A 2009 statement published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature stated that ‘more that 30% of the 64 species of sharks and rays assessed by the group were found to be threatened or near threatened with extinction’. Overfishing was the primary threat facing these animals, the IUCN said.

Because of its growing wealth and cultural practices, China became the world’s largest market for shark fins. Of the 100 million sharks killed, 73 million are used for shark fin soup, conventionally known as ‘fish wing’ soup. Originally, Shark fin soup was created in the sung dynasty in order to impress various guests as a delicacy of the region. Naively, a report claimed that 19% of the Chinese believed that the shark fins grew back and a vast proportion didn’t even know what was actually in ‘fish wing’ soup. Current trends show that sales of shark fins in China have been decreasing thanks to collaborative efforts in recent years such as several major hotels in the region pledging to ban the dish in 2014.

Air China’s decision will add to the anti-finning pressure placed on other Chinese Southern Airlines in Guangzhou. According to various data collected by ‘WildAid’, the sale of shark fin in Guangzhou have dropped by 82%. Alex Hofford from WildAid commended Air China for issuing an ‘ethical stance’ to protect global ecology. Attitudes began to change for the better in China after WildAid solicited the Chinese professional basketball player Yao Ming from a public awareness campaign in 2006, enlisting their slogan ‘when the buying stops, the killing can too.’ Yao claimed that ‘it’s something almost shameful for young middle class people to eat.’

Last year Singapore was claimed to be measured the second largest shark fin trading nation. They too stated said that they would support laws to deplete shark fin consumption.

Wildaid is now trying to stop the shark fin trade in Hong Kong which it said was essentially ‘unregulated.’ According to a World Wide Fund for Nature survey carried out in Hong Kong more than 98% of restaurants in the territory still served shark fin soup. Fed ex is China’s national flag carrier and are yet to respond to nearly 300,000 signatures to stop importing. Even its primary competitor, UPS, stopped shipments in August in reaction to pressure from conservation groups including WildAid. In 2006 activists were dressed in shark fin costumes outside the Hong Kong Fedex offices to protest against unsustainable shark finning in the hopes that a strong message will get across.  

A Nationwide ban on the trade of shark fins would increase execution of the current finning ban and summon other countries in a call to action. In the US, a ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee said that ‘Cutting the fin off a shark is illegal in the United States, so there’s no reason to treat selling a shark fin as legal commerce.’ 

A number of states have begun to pass bills to ban shark fin products in the US, the first being Hawaii and Texas followed about a year ago. Florida attempted to pass similar legislation in 2014, but the movement failed to pass. The state hasn’t given up on the issue however, and is proposing a law once again this month to outlaw the shark fin trade.  It is now time for the United States to make a rhyming move as they did, in their ban of ivory and their horns, as to shark fins and to identify that shark finning is a punishable process that should indeed be prohibited nationwide. Join the growing ocean passport holders at TerraMar if you support this decision http://theterramarproject.org/pledge/

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