News

    Disney Reignites Hong Kong Shark Fin Debate

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Thomas Kelley

    Hong Kong Disneyland is set to open September 12. But the theme park has already suffered bad publicity and it ultimately had to reverse course on its plan to serve shark's fin soup. The Disney controversy has ignited debate over the practice of eating shark fin, and the city's role in the trade.

    After waging a spirited campaign against the Walt Disney Company, environmentalists welcomed Hong Kong Disneyland's announcement that it will not serve the Chinese delicacy, shark's fin soup.

    Disney came under fire when it said it would serve the dish at two of the attraction's hotels. Greenpeace, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and WildAid say the company was neglecting its publicized commitment to protecting endangered species.

    Disney said that although it takes environmental stewardship seriously, it wanted to balance those concerns with cultural sensitivity to Chinese customs.

    But, Hong Kong environmentalist Brian Darvell says that argument does not justify overfishing shark populations for what he calls a vanity dish.

    "You have to bear in mind that times change and that if a particular habit or custom is unsustainable then all the bleating in the world is not going to change anything," he stressed.

    Central to this conflict between culture, commerce and conservation is the decline of shark populations around the globe. Many scientists say the number of sharks worldwide has dropped by half over the past 15 years, and some species may have declined by more than 70 percent.

    The World Conservation Union says more than 250 shark species may be threatened by the fin trade. Among them are hammerheads, the plankton-eating basking shark and the spiny dogfish.

    Conservationists oppose what they call the cruelty and wastefulness of gathering shark fins. Mr. Darvell says the fins are most often obtained through a process called finning.

    "The practice generally then is to remove the fins and dump the live animal overboard to bleed to death, to drown as some put it," he explained. "But of course in deep water it's just going to end up on the bottom. It won't be able to do anything and it dies. This is barbaric."

    People in the shark fin industry say that is not true, that most of their product comes from standard fishing methods.

    But Disney says it abandoned plans to serve shark fin because it cannot find a trader that humanely fishes sharks that are not endangered.

    Conservationists say Disney's decision is important because its newest park is located at the center of the shark fin trade.

    By some estimates up to 85 percent of the world's shark fin business flows through Hong Kong.

    Victor Wu with the conservation group WildAid in Singapore says the stakes are rising, because increasing wealth in China is boosting demand for shark fin.

    "Hong Kong is the capital of the shark fin trade, easily, without a doubt," he said. "Everywhere in the world, every fishing port that you visit where there are Chinese traders or local traders, all the fishermen around the world - we have done extensive research in Central America, out in Indonesia, and some of the other African and Indian peninsula region - everyone is sending their fins to Hong Kong."

    Hong Kong's Sai Ying Pun district is the heart of the city's shark fin trade. Its shops are packed with fins of all shapes, sizes and prices.

    For the best grade, one bowl of shark's fin soup can command hundreds of dollars. Hong Kong Chefs Association president Perry Yuen says that the more uncommon the shark fin, the more expensive the dish.

    "They have different variety of shark fin. Some of them, they are, they are very unique, and they are very less in the world and then, you know (then) it gets more expensive," he explained.

    And it is the price of the delicacy that appears to matter most. While many enjoy it for its taste and reputed healthful properties, shark's fin soup is most popular as a sign of status. Because it is expensive and requires intensive preparation, many Chinese associate it with wealth and power.

    Shark's fin soup is a traditional dish at Chinese banquets and weddings. Mr. Yuen explains that to not serve shark fin soup to your guests is to lose face.

    "Chinese people, we won't eat shark fin everyday. But for banqueting, shark fin almost is a must, almost is a must. If the menu is without shark fin then the guests will think, 'Oh, the organizer is cheap,' " he explained.

    Disney says this is why it originally had planned to make shark's fin soup available for special functions at two of its Hong Kong hotels.

    Conservationists applaud Disney's reversal. They say Disney has long been a supporter of wildlife conservation and should stick to that position.

    WildAid's Mr. Wu also says the company has an opportunity to send a strong message to Hong Kong and the world about the need for shark conservation.

    "Disney could really turn this around and make it a very, very positive story and reinforce the conservation message they have been preaching for all these years, considering all the great work that Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund has done, just because of a very, very small faux pas that Hong Kong Disneyland seemed to have made," he said.

    Some conservationists have already shifted the battle to the Hong Kong government. Activists have sent letters to the Environment Secretary and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, urging the government to take broader action and reduce consumer demand through education. The Worldwide Fund has begun to pressure the government to promote the consumption of shark fin that is obtained from unthreatened species.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora