SCMP: Shark fin crusader looks to HK

By Lana Lam
FT News, Education
23 October 2011
South China Morning Post

The Macau-born man who spearheaded the successful campaign to ban shark’s fin soup in California says it is time for Hong Kong to do the same.

Earlier this month, Californian lawmaker Paul Fong’s bill banning shark fin trade was approved by the state’s governor, Jerry Brown.

“Hopefully this gives a message Hong Kong should think about it too,” said the assemblyman, 59, who moved overseas when he was three. “Taiwan is thinking about it and the ultimate goal is for the mainland to ban it. That would be a huge coup but Hong Kong will have to go first.”

California joined three other US states where shark’s fin is banned – Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – effectively closing off the west coast as a port, distribution centre and market for the trade.

According to WWF-Hong Kong, California imported about 24 tonnes of dried shark fin between 2008 and last year. Hong Kong imports an average 10,000 tonnes every year.

Fong introduced the bill in mid-February and it was passed 65-8 with 7 abstaining. “Most of the opposition was from the Cantonese community from Chinatown in San Francisco and Oakland. They’re still talking to me and treat me as a leader. But the issue’s over at least as far as the law’s concerned,” he said.

Fong’s quest to ban the controversial Chinese delicacy started three years ago when he saw a documentary about shark finning.

“I found out that 73 million sharks are finned every year and that the shark population is going to be extinct. If this happens, the ocean’s food chain would become hugely unbalanced because the ocean’s top predator would not be there. It’s like women’s foot binding. That was unhealthy and that practice went away, so this can too.

“For most of his life, Fong ate shark’s fin soup, usually at wedding banquets and special occasions.

“I liked it. The broth was delicious and it tastes really good. [The shark fin] was crunchy and the texture was OK but it didn’t taste like anything. I didn’t know what the big deal was until I found out about the cost and the shark finning,” he said. “The last time I ate it was three years ago at a dinner with the Consul-General of China. He had a real big shark fin.”

Last November Fong spoke to a local Chinese-language newspaper about his plan.

“I let the Chinese community know three months before I did it so I could get some feedback. I got a few people against it but most people were for it,” he said.

Critics have branded Fong’s bill an attack on Chinese values and culture, but Fong disagrees.

“I’m not attacking my values. I’m a Chinese-American. When they banned foie gras in California [which came into effect this July], nobody said it was an attack on the French. I know my Chinese roots and Chinese culture is very important to me, but I’m an environmentalist.”

The shark fin ban comes into effect on January 1 and businesses and restaurants have until June 30, 2013, to use up their stocks.

Those caught trading shark’s fin after this date can be fined US$1,000 and possibly receive six months in jail.

The United States accounts for 70 per cent of shark fin imports outside of Asia. California imports and re-exports about 85 per cent of all dried shark fins that enter the US.

Earlier this year, Hong Kong’s Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah said Hong Kong followed international guidelines on the shark trade, which excludes only three species, and he would not commit to banning shark’s fin soup at official banquets and meals.

Taiwan said in July it would tighten measures against hunting sharks for their fins. Its fishermen are barred from tossing sharks back into the water to die after taking their fins.

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