Eighty-five per cent of Chinese consumers said they have given up shark fin soup in the past years, according to a new report by WildAid, an international NGO against illegal wildlife trading.
Two-thirds of respondents cited awareness campaigns, such as that helmed by former NBA star Yao Ming, as the reason for ending their shark fin consumption.
WildAid conducted an online poll of 1,568 people from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.
The respondents also cited concerns about mercury levels and the prevalence of potentially dangerous fake shark fin as reasons for not consuming it.
Falling demand has led to a drop in prices, particularly in Guangzhou, the current centre of China’s shark fin trade, where vendors reported an 82 per cent decline in sales and a 47 per cent decrease in retail prices over the past two years.
The study results came from interviews with 15 wholesale and retail sellers in Guangzhou.
“Demand reduction can be very effective,” said WildAid executive director Peter Knights. “The more people learn about the consequences of eating shark fin soup, the less they want to participate in the trade.
“Government bans on shark fin at state banquets in [mainland]China and Hong Kong also helped send the right message and this could be a model to address issues, such as ivory,” he said.
According to WildAid, around 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins, primarily to supply the mainland market. Some shark populations have declined by up to 98 per cent in the past 15 years.
High-profile media campaigns helmed by Chinese celebrities have been credited with changing attitudes, particularly among young Chinese.
“Yao Ming’s commercial impact single-handedly smashed my business,” one Guangzhou trader told WildAid.
Yao, who champions the shark fin trade issue, is among several WildAid celebrity ambassadors, including Jackie Chan, Maggie Q and Leonardo DiCaprio.
However, Angelo Villagomez, a shark specialist with US-based conservation group Pew Charitable Trusts, put the decline in consumption down to Xi Jinping’s anti corruption campaign, which has forced a decline in lavish banquets.
“It’s not to do with conservation. It’s related to a Chinese government anti-graft crackdown, which has cut back on dinners where shark fin soup was featured on the menu,” Villagomez told Agence France-Presse in September last year, commenting on the impact of China’s graft crackdown on shark fin consumption.
“The culture is [also]changing in Asia among younger people. They aren’t eating shark fin soup as much.”
The anti-corruption campaign was also cited as a reason for a drop in Hong Kong’s re-export market for shark fin. According to WWF-Hong Kong, the trade in shark fins from Hong Kong to mainland China dropped by almost 90 per cent in 2014.
Main Photo: Workers lay out pieces of shark fin to dry on a rooftop of a factory building in Hong Kong (Bobby Yip/Reuters)