Restaurant serves dish of controversy

Updated: 2011-12-31 16:32


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BEIJING - A Chinese restaurant owner has caused a stir after he vowed to remove shark fins from the menu, while at the same time announcing he would serve his remaining stock free.

Shangguan Junle, chairman of Haomen Jipin Restaurants in north Shanxi province, wrote on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo this week that he decided to stop serving shark fins from the beginning of 2012 to "protect sharks and the environment."

Yet the 34-year old entrepreneur went on to explain that he would not be wasteful and throw out his remaining stock, but rather provide shark fin dishes for free at all restaurant outlets at 10:00 am January 3.

His restaurants see an annual turnover of 50 million yuan ($7,925,000) generated from shark fin dishes, accounting for one-third of the company's total turnover, Shangguan said.

The company has outlets in the provincial capital of Taiyuan and three other cities in Shanxi, a province known for its nouveau riche, thanks to its rich coal production.

The businessman's vow of "no more shark fins" followed by giveaways of it was regarded as contradictory, after his post attracted both praise for "benevolence," and criticism for being "hypocrisy" from Internet users.

Some viewed it admirably, classifying Shangguan as a role model, but others found him insincere and interpreted it as a promotional stunt.

Wang Kai, an anchorman with the China Central Television (CCTV), commented that it would be better if Shangguan sold the stock and donated the proceeds to environmental organizations.

Shangguan said he anticipated that his decision would be dubbed as a shallow promotion, but that doesn't matter as long as it helps end the shark-fin market.

Shark fin soup, celebrated in China, is usually served at important banquets, such as wedding receptions. As Chinese people have grown richer, the soup, once a symbol of nobility and luxury, has become common in restaurants.

And the controversy is not only in China. Environmental protection organizations around the world say the market for shark fin has caused the decline of the species, which, atop of the ocean food chain, are critical to ecosystem stability.

According to WildAid, a wild animal protection organization, up to 73 million sharks are killed every year. As a result, about one-third of the open-ocean shark species are threatened with extinction, with certain species experiencing a 99-percent-population decline.

Sharks are often still alive when their fins are hacked off. The sharks, whose meat is not considered as valuable as their fins, are thrown back into water to drown or bleed to death.

The French documentary "Oceans" was released in China in August.

The documentary, directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, has  caused tremendous reaction around the world. Exposing human cruelty and the plight of sharks, it sparked enthusiasm for environmentalism and has increased condemnations of shark finning.

Shangguan said he was shocked and moved by the documentary. "It drove me to make the decision," he said.

More and more people in China have begun recognizing the harm of shark finning and are refusing to eat it.

In March, a group of lawmakers proposed that the country's top legislature ban the trade of shark fins. Ding Liguo, a billionaire and executive chairman of Delong Holdings Limited, was among them.

China is now the biggest market of shark fin, consuming 95 percent of the world's total with Taiwan, Hong Kong included, said Ding, noting that only legislation can stop shark-fin trading and reduce the killings of sharks.

The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, parent company of The Peninsula Hotels, recently said that it will stop serving shark fins as of January 1 at all of its eight hotels globally. Some other companies said they would follow.

Former NBA icon Yao Ming also joined the campaign to protect sharks. "Sharks are friends of human beings. They are not our food," Yao said.

"When the buying stops, the killing can too," he said in a video ad.

Shangguan said his decision was a response to Yao's appeal. Although some of his family members and friends don't understand, he intends to uphold his vow.