Hong Kong customs officials seize record £7m shipment of endangered shark fins

Two containers are intercepted on arrival in Hong Kong from Ecuador and 13 tons of shark fins are seized

Louise Boyle
New York
Friday 08 May 2020 19:38 BST
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Four new species of shark that use their fins to walk along the seabed have been discovered off the coast of Australia

A record-breaking haul of fins from endangered sharks has been seized by customs officials in Hong Kong.

Two cases were located at the Kwai Chung Customhouse on 28 April and 4 May, officials said. Inside, they found 13 tons of dried fins with an estimated market value of £6.9m ($8.6m), the largest single seizure to date.

The containers were intercepted by Hong Kong officials when the illegally trafficked products arrived from Ecuador.

After further investigation, a 57-year-old man was arrested in Sai Ying Pun area of Hong Kong on 29 April. He was released on bail as the investigation continues.

Hong Kong officials said in a statement that any person found guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without a licence can be fined up to £8m ($10m) and faces a prison sentence of 10 years.

Shark finning is a brutal practice which involves cutting off the shark's dorsal fin, often while it is still alive. Some sharks are then dumped back in the water, suffering from blood loss. With no fin, it is impossible for the shark to stabilise, leaving it to slowly die, according to the Humane Society International.

The fins are used to make shark fin soup, although they do not have any taste. The dish is viewed as a delicacy in parts of Asia and is served at celebrations as a symbol of wealth.

Fins are worth around £390 ($450) per pound on the market and a bowl of soup can cost up to £87 ($100), according to Shark Allies. Some 72 million sharks are killed every year for shark fin soup.

Hong Kong Customs seized 13 tons of illegally trafficked dried fins from endangered sharks in recent weeks

Full or partial bans on shark finning have been enacted in dozen of countries and a number of high-profile hotels and companies in Asia have taken the dish off the menu, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.

Hong Kong banned shark fin soup at government banquets in 2013. The region once had a burgeoning trade in shark fins but has moved to crack down on the illegal market, according to Pew. Over the past six years, Hong Kong has ramped up training for customs officers to spot illegally imported shark fins that are on the list of species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) international agreement.

An estimated 5 million metric tons of illegal shark fins have been confiscated in Hong Kong in that time, Pew reported.

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