Chinese celebrities including basketball star Yao Ming, along with the wildlife conservation group WildAid, are asking the Chinese people to give up one of their favorite foods. The conservation group says the demand for shark's fin soup, a Chinese delicacy, could put some species of shark in danger of extinction.
The U.S.-based conservation group WildAid kicked off a campaign Wednesday to encourage the Chinese, known for their exotic tastes, to cut down on their consumption of sharks and various endangered species.
China is the world's largest consumer of shark fins, which are used in an expensive soup. The Chinese consider shark's fin soup both healthy and prestigious, and it is regularly served at banquets to impress guests.
Steve Trent, the president of WildAid, says the skyrocketing demand for shark's fin soup has reduced shark numbers to an all-time low.
"The catch of sharks worldwide has increased by 300 percent since 1950. We can now look at around about 50 million sharks and rays are directly caught each year. But the truth is probably many more than that are caught in seas and oceans and they go unreported," he said.
Chinese celebrities, including a musician and an Olympic gold medalist, joined in the call for the Chinese public to reduce or stop eating shark's fin soup altogether.
Basketball star Yao Ming pledged he would never eat the soup again.
"In this age of development, we are more driven by money and the increasing desire to satisfy our taste buds," he said. "I heard our country used to have a kind of antelope. One hundred years ago, people discovered the economic value of this antelope, which led to its extinction during the '70's and '80's. I do not wish for this same situation to happen to sharks."
An estimated 10,000 tons of shark fins are traded around the world every year, the majority of which end up in China. A campaign against the eating of shark's fin has been waged for several years in Hong Kong, one of the major consumers of the dish.
The increasing demand for the fins has encouraged illegal fishing, and is contributing to the collapse of shark populations. WildAid says 110 species of sharks are now classified as endangered, threatened or vulnerable.