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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence