Shock video turns tide against shark's fin soup

Its fins had been hacked off by hunters who had then dumped it in the sea to die. For the Pacific fishermen who towed it to shore to give it a quicker death, it was a tragically common sight.

This death was different, however. It was recorded by a group of Hong Kong tourists, whose three-minute video may have done more for the campaign against shark's fin consumption than any costly PR exercise.

The video became an internet sensation, watched by tens of thousands online and triggering a popular Facebook campaign to cut gift money for Hong Kong couples who serve shark's fin at their wedding banquets.

Nearly 19,000 people have signed up for the Chinese-language Facebook page titled Say No to Shark's Fin Soup.

Six months after the video clip began circulating, there are signs of a sea-change in opinion over the shark's fin traded in Hong Kong.

The demand is driven by the tradition of serving gelatinous, flavourless shark's fin soup at wedding banquets and functions as a display of generosity.

The practice has until now been impervious to the cries of environmentalists that it is jeopardising shark populations.

But as far as newly-wed Constance Ching was concerned, the traditional delicacy was never even a consideration when it came to choosing the menu for her wedding in June.
"We didn't want to contribute to the killing of sharks because of the effect it has on the eco-system," said Constance, 34.

"There has definitely been a change in people's opinions. It used to be a staple on any wedding banquet menu but not anymore. I went to the weddings of two friends in July and neither served shark's fin soup.

"If I went to a wedding now and shark's fin was served, I would certainly say something about it to them."

Nearly 80 percent of people in Hong Kong had eaten the soup, the Word Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) found when it launched a campaign against the practice three years ago.
The organisation has signed up 18 hotels and restaurants, including some of the most prestigious establishments such as the Excelsior Hotel and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, to offer banquet menus free of shark's fin.

A total of 114 shark species - more than a fifth of the total - were listed as being threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, largely because of the demand for shark's fin, and the trade was growing at 5 per cent a year.

Hong Kong, the WWF says, is at the centre of the global trade, handling at least half of the estimated 10,000 tonnes of fins cut from 73 million sharks, which are either for domestic consumption or to sell on to China where demand is booming along with prosperity.

Vicky Wong, who has campaigned with the Hong Kong Shark Foundation for two years against the practice, says the impact of the video cannot be underestimated.

Her uncle made a speech at the family table and swore never to touch shark's fin again, she said. Several friends had also renounced the delicacy, she added.

"Getting people so worked up about something is rare in Hong Kong. It was the power of the images - the cruelty of it all - that forced people to see the truth."

Attitudes have since changed significantly, Wong believes. "We feel we have hit the tipping point now," she said.

The impact of changing attitudes in recent months and years is difficult to gauge. Import and sales figures are jealously guarded and while some traders admit demand has fallen, they will not quantify the decline.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that the popularity of shark's fin is falling. Wong's most personal experience came at a banquet to celebrate her parents' 40th wedding anniversary last year.

"When I began campaigning against shark's fin soup, my mother didn't understand what I was getting worked up about and she said to me 'Oh let me eat it - I'm old'," she recalled.

"Then at their anniversary banquet they served up broth without the shark's fin, which tastes just as good because shark's fin has no taste. I think they did it for my benefit - but I was very proud of them."

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