Environmentalists circling shark fin soup

Updated: 2011-12-23 08:33

By Cang Wei (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Most hotels on the Chinese mainland are staying out of controversial waters when it comes to serving shark fin soup, and are keeping the dish on their menus despite repeated calls from animal rights organizations to conserve the species from extinction.

According to a survey by the Daerwen Environmental Institute, a Beijing-based non-governmental organization, more than 98 percent of high-end hotels in Beijing have refused to stop serving shark fin soup, especially with the approach of Spring Festival - a time when the traditional delicacy is highly desired on banquet tables.

Of the 131 luxury hotels surveyed, only one hotel said the dish had been removed from its menu. Many hotels insist that shark is not a species that needs protection in China.

A representative for Xiao-nanguo, a restaurant chain for Shanghai cuisine, told China Daily that the chain will continue to offer shark fin soup during the Spring Festival.

"Though China's national standards for green hotels request that endangered wild animals and plants should not be used as ingredients in food, there's no specific regulation banning the trade in shark fin," said Liu Huili, a researcher from the Daerwen Environmental Institute.

China's Regulation of Assessment of Green Hotels - the first national standard for the Chinese hotel industry in regards to ecological efficiency - has been in effect for nearly four years. By 2012 the country plans to establish 10,000 green hotels, according to the survey report.

"We hope that stopping serving shark fin soup can become one of the standards for a green hotel's assessment, which will effectively promote the protection of sharks," Liu said.

According to WildAid, a wild animal protection organization, up to 73 million sharks are killed every year to meet the demand for shark fin soup. About one-third of the open-ocean shark species are facing extinction, and the populations of some species have even declined by up to 99 percent.

Charlie Lim, chairman of the Marine Products Association's conservation and management committee in Hong Kong, denied that Chinese people's fondness for eating shark fin soup contributes the most to the killing of sharks.

"Most shark fins come from dead sharks, and are a byproduct of European shark meat fisheries," said Lim.

He added that environmentalists unfairly cast Chinese people as "public enemies", and that China "should continue to promote a policy of tolerance, respect and understanding for the many different ways that different peoples and cultures interact with animals".

However, some Chinese restaurants are making efforts to remove shark fin from their menus. Yu Ying, assistant general manager of the Dragon Hotel in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, said that the hotel has stopped serving the dish even if customers ask for it.

"Though stopping serving shark fin soup has a big impact on our profits, we decided not to serve it in recognition of the importance of shark protection," said Yu.

She added that the hotel sold 300 kilograms of shark fin last year.

"When we decided not to provide shark fin soup, we negotiated with the customers who had already booked the dish for their weddings. All of them showed understanding and agreed to cancel the soup," Yu said.

"When I used to have dinner with friends, they persuaded me to have shark fin soup if I refused to have it, but now they said they feel sorry and admit their mistakes," said Zhang Yue, a renowned anchorwoman and animal protection activist.

"This shows Chinese people's increasing awareness of shark protection," Zhang said.

Yang Yijun and Xing Yu contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 12/23/2011 page3)