Hong Kong seizes 26 tonnes of illegal shark fins from mostly endangered species
A sad record: On April 28th and May 4th 2020, a total of 26 tonnes of dried shark fins was seized in two shipping containers in Hong Kong. It is the largest shark fin haul ever reported and more than twice the amount of shark fins seized in all of 2019. The total market value of the fins is estimated at around 8.9 Million HK$ – approximately 1.06 million €.
According to custom officials, the shark fins were removed from around 38.500 endangered sharks – 31.000 thresher sharks (Alopias vulpinus) and 7.500 silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis). Both species are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and are protected by CITES, an international convention on the trade with endangered species. Only a small number of fins from unprotected shark species were detected, most likely for cover.
The containers filled with 773 nylon bags of unlabelled dried shark fins were declared to hold “pescado seco”, Spanish for dried fish. It was the use of Spanish instead of English in the declaration form that raised the officials suspicion.
Both containers were shipped from Ecuador to the same logistics company in Hong Kong. The 57-year old owner of the company was subsequently arrested in connection to the seizure. For now, he has been granted bail, but investigations are still ongoing.
The maximum fine for importing and exporting of endangered species is 10 million HK$ and a prison sentence of 10 years under the protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance in Hong Kong.
Shark fins are traded to be used in shark fin soup, which is traditionally served at weddings and special occasions in several Asian countries. Overall, the demand for shark fins in Hong Kong has been decreasing in the recent years and Dorothy Cheng of WildAid HongKong believes that the record seizure of shark fins does not show an increase in demand, but rather assumes that smugglers saw their chance for a larger shipment while the governments focus is on the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the detection and seizure of these fins can be booked as a win, it is also an alarming signal. Once again, we can observe how the shipping of loose shark fins facilitates the illegal trade with endangered species that should be protected by CITES. That these containers were searched was a lucky guess on sides of the officials and leaves us wondering how many containers filled with the fins of endangered shark species pass by unnoticed.
Among the top trading hotspots of loose shark fins on their way to the markets in Hong Kong is also Europe. This case shows us that we need to act now, and that we can not turn a blind eye on the illegal trade with vulnerable species. In Europe, we now have the chance to make a change and go a step further to protect sharks – the European Citizens Initiative Stop Finning aims to prohibit the trade with detached shark fins. Forcing shippers to trade the whole animal would make it difficult or impossible for them to smuggle protected species and also significantly reduce the profit that can be made with the slaughter of these animals. With the signatures of one million EU citizens until February 2021, we can present this issue to the European parliament and reach our goal.