A few days ago, Hong Kong officials seized 28 tonnes of shark fins in the biggest operation seen in the city and twice the amount seized in 2019.

The shipments first arrived in January; however, the contents of the container were later discovered on April 28th and May 4th. Officials became suspicious after noticing the labels were in Spanish when typically, the shipments are either in English or Chinese.

According to reports, both crates were sent by the same company to a Hong Kong logistics company. A man was arrested but is currently on bail awaiting further investigation.

Those found with shark fins could face up to 10 years of prison or a fine of nearly 1.3 million.

The fins discovered were severed from 38,500 sharks, some of which are endangered and considered protected species like the thresher and silk sharks. Forty percent of the fins found are from these species. The estimated market value of the shipment is thought to be around £6.9 million ($8.6 million USD).

Half of the world’s supply of shark fins pass through Hong Kong, and while authorities have tried to crack down on the illicit trading, there hasn’t been much change due to a lack of regulation. It’s also still legal to buy and consume shark fins in Hong Kong, although it has been banned in numerous other cities and countries. While endangered species are meant to be protected, false labelling on shipments can be common.

The Billion Dollar Shark Fin Trade

Shark finning refers to the practice of cutting of a shark’s dorsal fin, often while it’s still alive. The cut is fatal as shark’s need their fins to balance and swim effectively. Without it they face a slow death of either sinking to the ocean floor or starving. Each year, the shark finning industry is responsible for the deaths of more than 70 million sharks and with declining populations worldwide, the practice is destroying the marine ecosystem.

But shark fins remain popular amongst those with expensive appetites. The delicacy is seen as a status symbol due to how expensive it can be and is often served at weddings. Ironically, shark fins usually have no taste and the flavour comes from other ingredients in the dish. However, many believe shark fins to have health benefits that range from enhancing skin quality to preventing cancer – although there is no scientific evidence to support the latter.

While the dish continues to be common in traditional Chinese cuisine, consumption has dropped by 80% since 2011. Nonetheless, demand is growing in other countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Aisha Mohamed