The sustainability issues around shark fin are shocking and without debate.  Putting aside the barbaric methods of shark-finning, from an environmental point of view the practice of killing tens of millions of sharks annually for their fins has countless impacts on our oceans.  With a quarter of sharks and rays now threatened with extinction this has a cascading effect resonating throughout the entire marine ecosystem.

Last week we held the second meeting of the Food Made Good Advisory Board where one topic which sparked lively discussion was the debate around sustainable fish practices, in particular, issues around awareness of shark-finning and shark fin soup and how this has shaped the industry and changed public perception.

Saying no to shark fin

As a result of significant awareness-raising campaigns, including the WWF-HK’s ‘Saying No to Shark Fin’, to date there are now 35 restaurants and hotels who have imposed a ban on serving shark fin. 

Our Advisory Board agreed, this is a real and current example of how consumers have helped to shape and drive issues around the environment.  Within the space of a decade, consumer behaviour in Hong Kong has shifted dramatically.  In 2015 research conducted by Bloom and the University of Hong Kong showed that 70 per cent of HK residents have reduced or entirely stopped consuming shark fin soup.  Many F&B businesses now refuse to offer shark fin including some of the big operators, such as Maxim’s, who announced in 2018 that it will stop selling shark fin by this year.  For many, shark fin really has become a social pariah.

Photo credit: Gerald Schömbs

But have we done enough?

However, what is of debate, is whether the tide has shifted enough for this unscrupulous and mostly illegal trade. 

Sadly, earlier this year, Hong Kong saw its largest ever seizure of illegal shark fin, totalling 26 tonnes.  There is still demand for shark fin in Hong Kong and some Chinese restaurants continue to serve shark fin soup, despite the fact it often comes from illegal sources.  We need to continue to drive awareness of issues around shark-finning in order to educate consumers, young and old, and to put pressure on the restaurants that are feeding this illegal trade.

The power of public opinion 

Alongside many of our Advisory Board members, Heidi Spurrell, CEO of Food Made Good HK, is heartened by the power of public opinion and the positive effects this has had on shark-finning.  “The shift in industry behaviour around serving shark fin soup is a really good example of how organisations and consumers can put pressure on industry to drive us towards a more sustainable food system.  Just as organisations such as WWF and a more informed public were able to put pressure on hotels and restaurants to stop serving shark fin, we can also put pressure on our most popular restaurants to offer a more sustainable menu, such as serving more sustainable seafood options and less animal-derived protein, with more delicious plant based options, in order to lead by example and encourage more sustainable diets.

“As a group representing the F&B community, we will continue to inform, educate and be pioneers in a fragile world in order to shift consumer demand. Collectively we want to demonstrate the importance of sustainable diets and nutrition by championing delicious responsible ingredients and consciously creative menus that showcase dishes which are better for both the environment and our health.”

Photo credit: David Clode

Building a sustainable food future

Our eminent Food Made Good Advisory Board meets every six months to share updates and exciting developments ahead for the organization. In light of Covid-19, we believe the case for a more sustainable food future is stronger than ever, as we continue our work to support and grow our network during these challenging times. Covid-19 has really highlighted how the health of the planet is tied to the health of humans and animals, and deforestation is one example that illustrates the link which has led to more infectious diseases in humans.  We look forward to continuing to discuss some of the most challenging and exciting sustainable food matters at future Advisory Board meetings as well as our monthly webinars, check out the upcoming topics here.

With much thanks to our President, Shane Osborn of Arcane and Cornerstone, Uwe Opocensky from Island Shangri-La who so kindly hosted us, Richard Ekkebus from Amber, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, Bobsy Gaia from MANA!, Laurence McCook and Peter Cornthwaite from WWF-HK, Wendy Chan from Green Monday, our academic expert, Daisy Tam, and chairperson, Jo Soo-Tang, for their expertise, passion and relentless pursuit of a better food system.