Shark fin smugglers using coronavirus as cover to ramp up illegal shipments into Hong Kong

Published on
June 12, 2020

Conservationists in Hong Kong remain puzzled by the scale of record illegal shark fin shipments into the city this year, at a time when overall consumption is down.

The two consecutive shark fin shipments, totaling 26 metric tons (MT) and valued at HKD 8.6 million (USD 1.1 million, EUR 950,000), were seized by the Hong Kong Customs on 28 April and 4 May. An estimated 38,500 sharks were killed for the fins seized in Hong Kong, mostly from the thresher and silky shark, whose trade is regulated under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II. None of the required permits accompanied the shark fins seized in Hong Kong.

“We are not sure why there were record seizures of shark fins during this period,” WWF-Hong Kong Senior Conservation Officer for Sustainability Gloria Lai told SeafoodSource. The shipments came from Ecuador, according to authorities in that country.

“There may be a possibility that traders are seeing a chance to ship the shark fins while government officials all over the world are preoccupied with efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lai said.

While her office has seen “a trend of decline in shark fin consumption with the rising consumer awareness of environmental conservation,” there is still demand for the fins from the banquet trade, Lai said. She pointed to a survey done in 2018 that showed seven out of 10 people in Hong Kong had eaten shark fin soup in the previous year.

The scale of the shipments seized is in sharp relief to the size of the official trade. In 2018, Hong Kong imported 4,681 MT and re-exported 1,699 MT of shark fin. From 2014-2019, a total of 12,238 kilograms of controlled shark fins were seized at air and sea ports. Yet only five cases were prosecuted, Lai said. 

WWF wants the Hong Kong government to list wildlife crime offenses under Schedule 1 of the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance. Under Hong Kong’s Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without the necessary permits is liable to a maximum fine of HKD 10 million (USD 1.29 million, EUR 1.14 million) and imprisonment for 10 years.

SeafoodSource has not yet received a response to questions sent to the Hong Kong government regarding its position on Hong Kong’s role in the global supply chain for shark fins.

In Ecuador, the minister with responsibility for fisheries has this month extended an export ban to five additional varieties of shark and has promised increased efforts to improve the “traceability” of the country’s seafood exports.

More than 30 percent of the 1,200 shark species worldwide are currently threatened with extinction and 99 species are classified as endangered or critically endangered. Hong Kong handles more than 40 percent of the global shark fin trade.

Photo courtesy of Dangdumrong/Shutterstock

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