Shark fin soup off the menu: China’s crackdown on extravagant banquets gives sharks a second chance

Sharp fall in shark fin consumption reflects anti-corruption drive, not changing attitudes

Beijing

A crackdown on extravagance and corruption within China’s ruling Communist Party is causing headaches for officials used to splashing the cash on banquets, but it’s proving a lifesaver for sharks.

Consumption of shark fin, the key ingredient in the pricey and extravagant banquet staple shark-fin soup, has dropped by 70 per cent since the end of last year, according to Ministry of Commerce data.

The party leadership launched a campaign in December, vowing to target extravagance and waste, and demanding austerity from cadres and military officials as a means of curbing graft.

Zhao Ping, the deputy director of the Department of Consumption Economy Studies at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Co-operation, believes up to 50 per cent of the drop in shark fin consumption is a result of cutbacks in government-related dining.

“Many companies host business banquets and their target is the government officials who have money and who have the authority to gain approval for projects,” Mr Zhao told the Xinhua news agency. “Since Chinese New Year this year, shark fin soup in the luxury hotels or restaurants has declined 70 per cent and the sales in some of the special shark fin restaurants … have declined by 50 per cent.”

And it’s not before time, environmentalists say. Up to 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins alone, and 44 species of shark in Chinese waters are endangered or face extinction.

More than 95 per cent of the annual harvest of shark fin worldwide is consumed in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Wang Xue, a member of a Beijing-based environmental NGO which runs the China Zero Shark Fin project, told the China Daily that her organisation was witnessing a general downturn in demand for shark fin.

Before the anti-graft campaign, at least 100 million yuan (£10.5m) was spent annually on shark fin dishes in Beijing, and official and business banquets were the main culprits, Ms Wang said.

In September 2012, Beijing diners were getting through 7.5 tonnes of shark fin a day, paying up to 1,800 yuan a bowl.

“Less demand will lead to less poaching,” Ms Wang said. “We wish to see the declining demand last a long time, instead of being a short-term response to government policy. It needs a transformation of ideas in people’s minds.”

Aside from the sheer numbers being caught, sharks are often “finned” –  meaning they are caught, their fins are cut off and they are returned to the ocean alive, where they will inevitably die, a practice that has angered animal rights activists for many years.

The Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming has done much to change attitudes in China with his public opposition shark fin, as have high-profile campaigns featuring Hong Kong singers and TV stars, but campaigners are concerned that the recent fall in consumption does not represent a sea-change in public attitudes.

Angelo Villagomez, a shark specialist with the Pew Charitable Trusts, a US-based conservation group, told AFP: “We are seeing a reduction in demand from China. Hong Kong is also showing a significant decline in consumption.

“It’s not to do with conservation,”  Mr Villagomez said. “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.”

China’s State Council said last year it was banning shark fin soup from public events, ostensibly for environmental reasons but probably also because of the connotations of official backscratching.

There are signs on the social media service Sina Weibo that the practice of eating shark-fin soup is becoming less popular.

A typical response on the site to ads for shark fin: “If there is no sale/business, there will be no killing. Let’s refuse shark fin.”

It’s not just shark-fin soup, of course, that has been affected. Since the government started the austerity programme, many upmarket restaurants have reported drastic sales declines.

Sales of birds’ nest soup and abalone – both pricey menu items beyond the reach of most Chinese – slipped by 40 per cent year-on-year.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Defendant Personal Injury 2+PQE

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - NICHE DEFENDANT FIRM - Defendant Pe...

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on