The plight of one of the ocean’s most ancient creatures is now being given a helping hand through the most modern of methods.
This week in Hong Kong, the Facebook and Youtube internet sites have been used by those campaigning against the use of shark fin in soups and other items on Chinese menus – and thousands of people are signing up daily to show their support.
Clement Lee Yui-wah is the man behind the Facebook site – “Cut gift money for shark fin banquets” – and he is targeting people who are attending Chinese weddings, where shark fin soup is usually served.
What Lee is asking is that if guests at a big event see shark fin on the menu, then they withdraw 30 percent of the “lai see” – or “lucky money” – traditionally given to the bride and groom.
And his actions have struck a nerve in Hong Kong, the world’s largest importer of shark fin. According to a report last year from the conservation group Oceana, the city imports 10 million kilograms of fins a year, which accounts for the deaths of 73 million sharks, drawn from the waters off 87 countries.
Chinese-language newspapers have this week run the issue on their front pages – for the first time, according to media watchers – with graphic images lifted from the Youtube video clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2P90_bJ3wc) that spurred Lee into action.
The video was taken by Hong Kong tourists who witnessed fisherman in the waters off the Philippines capture and then cut the fins off a rare whale shark – and then toss the creature overboard to die. Another group of fisherman then towed the shark to the shore so it could die faster.
The whale shark is one of a number of species threaten by the trade of fins – with conservation groups saying the numbers of some species in recent years has decreased by as much as 90 percent.
“We must push home the message that eating shark’s fin is the same as committing a crime,” Lee told reporters here.
Shark fin soup is a dish that dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China and is traditionally served at celebrations.
But the decline in shark numbers and the fact the fins are worth more than the shark flesh – meaning most of the shark is cast back into the sea by fishermen – has seen a growing call for regulations to be brought in to control the trade.
When Hong Kong’s Disneyland opened in 2005, it was forced to withdraw shark fin from its menus due to public outcry.