5 March 2014

Hilton shark fin ban rides the tidal change on Chinese delicacy

The February news that the Hilton group would ban shark's fin from all restaurants and F&B facilities at its 96 owned and managed properties in Asia Pacific by 1 April 2014 is yet another nail in the coffin for the once-popular Chinese banquet dish. 

Shark's fin is often served with scallops and crabmeat.
In December 2012, the company removed shark fin from menus across all restaurants and food and beverage (F&B) facilities operated by its managed properties in China and Southeast Asia, only serving it on request. 

This action helped pave the way for a ban, which first took effect in Southeast Asia on September 1, 2013 and then in Greater China on February 1, 2014. Banquet bookings made in each region prior to the respective ban dates will be honored accordingly.

Hilton follows in the footsteps of the Peninsula Hotels group, which chose to stop serving shark fin and associated products as of 1 January 2012. This ban affected Chinese restaurants and banqueting facilities in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok, and Chicago. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts also announced a ban on shark's fin in all of its operated restaurants and stopped accepting new orders for shark fin products in banqueting from January 2012.

A celebrity campaign against shark fins
Cathay Pacific announced a sustainable policy for shark's fin as far back as September 2012. At the time, it said that it will only accept shipments when shippers provide proof that the products to be shipped are independently verified sustainable shark and shark-related products. The South China Morning Post, which follows developments on shark finning very closely, reported in September 2013 that the policy will go into effect this year, and that the airline has stopped signing new contracts on shark's fin, and volumes have gone from 300 tonnes a year to about six tonnes.

Air New Zealand, Asiana, Emirates SkyCargo, Fiji Airways, Garuda, KLM, Korean Air, and Qantas have all banned shark's fin fully or partially, KLM as early as 2001, though there have been allegations that the practice may have continued after the bans.

While Taiwan introduced fishing laws in 2012 to ban shark finning, shark conservation has accelerated at the national level in recent months. An agreement on shark conservation from nine Arab nations was announced in February 2014. Several states in the US have banned shark's fin, India joined the bandwagon in August 2013, while New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries stated in January 2014 that shark finning would be eliminated in all New Zealand fisheries by 1 October 2015 with the exception of blue sharks, for which shark finning will be eliminated by 1 October 2016. Brunei is also enforcing ban on shark's fin from this year.

China, one of the biggest consumers of shark's fin, saw a government ban on serving shark's fin at official functions in December 2013. The Xinhua news agency reported that the Communist Party of China announced the ban as part of a sweeping government crackdown on corruption and extravagance. An official notice from the Party and the State Council, China's Cabinet, has "ruled out dishes containing shark fins, bird nests and wild animal products at official reception dinners".

This was an echo of an announcement made by the Hong Kong government in September 2013. "The Government is determined to take the lead and set a good example on this front that goes beyond the minimum expectation as laid down in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)," said a Government spokesman at the time. Shark's fin, bluefin tuna and black moss would no longer be included at official entertainment functions due to various conservation concerns.

"Since it is not possible to list out all food items of concern exhaustively, the exclusion of these three items from official menus is a start and also serves as an example of raising public education and awareness on sustainability," the spokesperson said.

While demand for shark's fin has already been declining over the years in Singapore, banning an item often creates an underground demand for it. Just last month, 970 kg of illegal shark's fin were seized in San Francisco.