On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Just say ‘no’ to shark fin soup

But more and more young Malaysians are now saying no to shark fin soup in line with the campaign to prevent the killing of sharks for their fins.

Getting the support of the young is crucial in the campaign because of the massive increase of the middle class in China and other Asian cities.

If the younger set is prepared to say no to shark fin in their menu, it will be a major step forward in the global campaign against shark-finning.

Roping in retired Chinese basketball icon Yao Ming in the fight against eating shark fin in his homeland last September was a major coup.

Together with British tycoon Richard Branson, he then made an appeal against eating shark fin to a group of 30 of China’s richest and most influential business people.

“When demand happens, the buying happens and the killing happens,” Yao, the seven-foot-six-inch-tall (2.29m) former centre who retired in July due to injuries after eight seasons with the Houston Rockets, was quoted as saying.

Yao is now using his post-retirement free time to help campaign against the slaughter of sharks, which is said to involve around 1.5 million sharks a week and is taking some of the species close to extinction.

The event sponsored by the conservation group WildAid is aimed at starting a conservation movement in China “not just to protect the sharks but to protect tigers, and to protect other species that are in peril of extinction,” Branson said.

News reports have quoted anti shark-finning campaigners as saying that fishermen kill more than 70 million sharks each year for their fins, which can sell for US$700 (RM2,175) a pound (450g) while the soup can cost up to US$80 (RM248) a bowl.

It is said that the fins are cut from the sharks and their bodies are discarded, leaving them to die.

Last week, the Shangri-La group declared that its 72 hotels would no longer offer shark fin or other shark products in their menu.

It is not clear whether the order came from Robert Kuok, the Malaysian tycoon who owns the luxury chain of hotels worldwide, many of which are in China.

Its rival, the Peninsula chain of hotels, which also has operations in China, stopped offering shark fin in their premises on Jan 1.

The Shangri-La’s decision is crucial because over 90% of shark fins are consumed in China and countries with huge Chinese population, including Hong Kong and Taiwan.

With an increasingly affluent Chinese population, the demand for shark fins has shot up sharply in recent years. This means more sharks would be hunted for their fins, and that means the population of sharks will disappear much faster than anticipated.

Besides soup, shark fin is also used in some dim sum delicacies, especially in some dumpling wrappings.

Westerners are only familiar with shark fin soup but the product is also widely used in other forms of cooking.

The campaign against eating shark fin involves film and music celebrities but businessmen must also be included as they wield tremendous power. At a practical level, they host dinners almost on a daily basis, especially in China.

They can set an example by taking shark fin soup off the menu for corporate dinners, thus sending a strong message to their staff, clients and even rivals. It is good corporate practice now to stop eating shark fin products.

Politicians should also join in the campaign because this appeals to the young set of voters who are revolted by the practice of shark-finning.

Many hotels and restaurants have also responded positively by offering artificial fins without compromising the taste of the soup.

Customers are happy to pay for the fakes as they feel that the restaurants are ready to meet the changes.

As we usher in the Year of the Dragon, the topic of conversation at the reunion dinner should not just be about political sharks, who need no saving, but of the global campaign to save the real sharks.

Let’s all join the campaign!