HONG KONG • Hong Kong has seized 26 tonnes of smuggled shark's fins, sliced from some 38,500 endangered animals, in the largest bust of its kind in the southern Chinese city.
The record haul was discovered in two shipping containers from Ecuador, and highlights the continued demand for the dish, which is served at wedding banquets in many Chinese communities.
The city's Customs department unveiled the haul on Wednesday and said it smashed previous records.
"Each consignment consisting of 13 tonnes broke the previous record seizure of 3.8 tonnes of controlled shark's fin made in 2019," said Customs official Danny Cheung.
Most of the fins came from thresher and silky sharks, both endangered species.
A 57-year-old man was arrested but has been released on bail pending further inquiries.
The populations of sharks, some of the ocean's most vital apex predators, have been decimated over the last few decades, with finning and industrial long-line fishing the main culprits.
Fishing fleets often practise finning - cutting the fin from the shark and then throwing the fatally maimed animal back into the sea.
The dried fins sell for considerable sums and are usually served in a gelatinous soup at banquets.
The sale and consumption of shark's fin is not illegal in Hong Kong, but must be licensed.
Importing endangered species without a licence is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a HK$10 million (S$1.8 million) fine.
Years of campaigning by environmentalists and celebrities, like the retired Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, have led to the dish becoming less fashionable among younger consumers in China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But it remains popular among older generations, and many prominent hotels and restaurants still offer it.
A 2018 survey by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found seven out of 10 Hong Kongers had eaten shark's fin that year.
"There is still strong cultural value placed on consuming shark's fin, particularly at weddings, business events and family gatherings like the upcoming Mother's Day," said senior conservation officer Gloria Lai Pui-yin.
Some restaurants and hotels had signed WWF's "say no to shark's fin" pledge but many continued to offer the dish, she added.
Wild Aid estimates 73 million sharks are killed every year for the trade. Their research says consumption has dropped significantly on the Chinese mainland but there is growing appetite for it in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.