Hong Kong officials are investigating two smuggling cases of dried shark fins, each containing 13 tonnes of suspected endangered species totaling a worth of about $8.6 million. Each case on its own “broke the past record of similar cases”.
The first shipment was discovered on April 28 at Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Compound in Hong Kong and a second, similarly sized shipment was again found a week later.
“Through risk assessment, Customs officers selected two containers arriving in Hong Kong from Ecuador for inspection and seized about 13 tonnes of suspected dried scheduled shark fins mix-loaded with non-scheduled shark fins inside each of the containers,” wrote the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department in a press release. A 57-year-old man was arrested on April 29 and has since been released on bail as the investigation continues.
Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, individuals guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without a license may face up to $10 million in fines and 10 years in prison. Shark finning involves cutting off a shark’s dorsal fin, often while it is still alive, according to The Humane Society International. Sharks are often released back into their home waters after having their fins cut off, making it impossible to balance or stabilize in the water and ultimately leading to a slow death.
“One of the greatest threats to sharks is finning – the act of cutting the fins off of a shark and discarding its body at sea, where it could drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. The demand for shark fins is primarily driven by the market for shark fin soup, a luxury item popular in some Asian cuisines,” notes ocean advocacy group Oceana. “In fact, fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global shark fin trade every year.”
A pound of shark fins averages around $450 each while a bowl of shark fin soup can cost up to $100, according to Shark Allies. An estimated 72 million sharks are caught every year, many of which may be considered endangered, such as the scalloped hammerhead and great hammerhead.
Dozens of countries have implemented full or partial bans on shark finning, according to the Animal Welfare Institute. In 2013, Hong Kong outlawed serving shark fin soup at government functions and, after having long been considered the center of the world shark fin trade, has recently set forth rigorous enforcement policies in response to the illegal market, according to a report published by Pew. International efforts such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora (CITES) have set forth a framework for “monitoring and controlling trade in wild animals and plants so as not to threaten their survival,” including sharks, according to Shark Trust.