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Shark fins on factory roof fan outrage

Updated: 2013-01-04 08:29
By Beh Lih Yi in Hong Kong ()

Hong Kong conservationists expressed outrage Thursday after images emerged of a factory rooftop covered in thousands of freshly sliced shark fins, as 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 viewed by many Asians as a rare delicacy.

Shark fins on factory roof fan outrage
Activist Gary Stokes, who has visited the site, estimated there are 15,000 to 20,000 fins laid out to dry on the rooftop on Hong Kong island ahead of an anticipated surge in demand over Lunar New Year in February this year.

"This is shocking," the Hong Kong coordinator for conservation group Sea Shepherd told AFP, saying it was the first time he has seen such a massive hoarding of shark fins in one place in the Asian financial hub.

"This is the most graphic, brutal and barbaric part of the industry - the element of chopping a shark's fin off and throwing it back into the water is horrific and inhumane," he added.

Stokes believed that traders moved to dry the shark fins on secluded 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 the menus, and home carrier Cathay Pacific said in September it would stop carrying unsustainable sourced shark products on its cargo flights.

Stokes urged Hong Kong authorities to ban the trade: "As long as there is no protection for the sharks, the (demand) will just keep going on and on."

About 73 million sharks are killed every year, with Hong Kong importing about 9,070 metric tons annually for the past decade, according to environmental group WWF.

Shark fins on factory roof fan outrage

Shark fins drying in the sun cover the roof of a building in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Environmentalists have raised concerns that the overharvesting of fins is causing an environmental calamity. Hong Kong is one of the world's biggest markets for shark fins, which are used to make expensive soup at Chinese banquets. [Photo/Agencies]

The number of threatened shark species has soared from 15 in 1996 to more than 180 in 2010.

It was not immediately clear who owns the thousands of unprocessed fins on the rooftop, which was unguarded when visited by an AFP journalist on Thursday.

A spokeswoman from the government's conservation department told AFP that authorities could not act because the fins were on private property.

Silvy Pun, the Hong Kong director for US-based Shark Savers, criticized the Hong Kong government for not acting to protect the dwindling shark population, after neighboring Taiwan banned shark finning this year while the Chinese mainland plans to stop serving the soup at official banquets.

"The government must do something. The government is being very laid back and trying to avoid confrontation with the shark fin traders," Pun said.

Trade in shark fins is not regulated in Hong Kong except for three species - basking shark, great white shark and whale shark - where the trade is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to which Hong Kong is a signatory.