Yao Ming aims to quell China's appetite for shark fin

NBA star and Shanghai Sharks owner Yao Ming urged China on Friday to say no to shark fin soup to stop the overfishing of some species amid growing demand for the delicacy.

The Houston Rockets centre who recently bought his hometown's professional team, unveiled a television commercial aimed at wealthy Chinese which urges them to stop ordering shark fin soup.

"We have species that need our attention and protection," Yao told reporters at a press conference launching the campaign.

"They are endangered by excessive hunting by humans and deprived of habitats due to human greed."

The television advertisement produced for the San Francisco-based conservation group WildAid shows Yao pushing away a bowl of shark fin soup that is served to him in an upmarket restaurant.

"If you could see how shark fin is made, could you still eat it?" a voice asks as Yao looks at an aquarium in the dining room where a bleeding shark flails after its fin has been cut off.

One by one, sharply dressed diners push their bowls away as Yao says: "When the buying stops, the killing can too."

The ad will air on China Central Television - the government's main broadcast mouthpiece - and on screens in government buildings, a WildAid spokeswoman said.

WildAid President Steve Trent told reporters a recent survey in China found that two thirds of respondents did not know shark fin came from sharks.

Shark fin soup, which can cost more than 100 dollars a bowl, is served at weddings and on important occasions to display wealth, but also because it is believed to improve one's health.

However, Trent said a 2007-2008 WildAid study indicated that a quarter of shark fin samples sold at Hong Kong markets were unfit for human consumption.

He added that high mercury levels commonly found in shark fin increased the risk of infertility and brain damage.

Growing demand for shark fin - driven mainly by Chinese consumers - had caused populations of some shark species to collapse by as much as 99 percent, WildAid said.

The shellfish industry also is threatened by the dwindling shark numbers, Trent said. Sharks help control populations of certain shellfish predators, which have multipied wildly.

"With China's leadership, we can save the world's sharks," Trent said. "With Yao's help, this will happen a lot quicker."

Yao, who has been ranked as China's most successful celebrity six years running by Forbes magazine, has been a spokesman for shark preservation since 2006 and bought the Sharks basketball team in July.

"Hopefully in future our kids will learn about sharks not only from our team, but they can still see live sharks in the ocean - not too close," he told reporters after the news conference.

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