HONG, KONG – Hong Kong conservationists have expressed outrage after images emerged of a factory rooftop covered in thousands of freshly sliced shark fins, and they called for curbs on the “barbaric” trade.
The southern Chinese city is one of the world’s biggest markets for shark fins, which are used to make soup that is an expensive staple at Chinese banquets and is viewed by many Asians as a rare delicacy.
Activist Gary Stokes, who has visited the site, estimated there were 15,000 to 20,000 fins being laid to dry on the rooftop on Hong Kong island ahead of a surge in demand over the Lunar New Year in February.
“This is shocking,” the Hong Kong coordinator for radical conservation group Sea Shepherd said, saying it was the first time that he has spotted such a massive hoarding of shark fins in one place in the Asian financial hub. “Chopping a shark’s fin off and throwing it back into the water is horrific and inhumane.”
Stokes believed the large amount of shark fins were destined for China, and that traders moved to dry the shark fins on rooftops instead of sidewalks — as they have done in the past — to avoid public anger.
Campaigns against consuming shark fins have gained ground in Hong Kong in recent years after major hotel chains decided to drop the soup from menus. Home carrier Cathay Pacific said in September it would stop carrying unsustainable sourced shark products on its cargo flights.
“The demand in Hong Kong is definitely decreasing, but unfortunately, the demand in China is growing,” Stokes said. “As long as there is no protection for the sharks, the (demand) will just keep going on and on,” he added, urging Hong Kong authorities to ban the trade.
Environmentalists say the sustainable shark fin industry is tiny, and most of the products are harvested in a way that threatens scores of shark species deemed vital for healthy oceans.
About 73 million sharks are killed every year.
The number of threatened shark species has soared from 15 in 1996 to more than 180 in 2010, mainly due to the growing Chinese demand for fins.
It was not immediately clear who owns the thousands of unprocessed fins on the rooftop.
A spokeswoman from the government’s conservation department said authorities could not act because the fins were on private property.