HONG KONG (Reuters) - Protesters wearing shark costumes with the fins cut off surrounded a famous restaurant beside the Hong Kong harbor on Saturday, to demand it halt sales of shark fins, especially from threatened species, such as the whale shark.
Demonstrators shouted and waved placards as they approached the Chinese territory’s Maxims Palace, half-owned by a unit of conglomerate Jardine Matheson Group and filled with people eating dim sum, but police kept them out.
“Stop selling,” chanted the group of about 70 adults and children, some of them holding placards that read, “Maxims, stop selling endangered shark fin ‘upon request.'”
Jardines, which operates in industries from luxury hotels to mining and transport, controls Dairy Farm International Holdings, which has a 50 percent stake in Maxims.
In an email to Reuters, Maxims said it had cut the volume of shark fins sold in its restaurants by more than half in the past 6 years, and only sold products from the blue shark species.
Protest organizer WildAid, a conservation group, released an online clip showing Maxims arranging shark fins from whale or basking sharks for a banquet of 200 people.
Reuters could not independently verify the clip.
The comments in the clip were untrue, Maxims said in its emailed statement, adding that it did not offer fin products from endangered species.
Activists’ efforts have helped achieve a nearly 40 percent cut in shark fins entering the former British colony over the past 5 years, but illegal supply has boomed recently.
Government seizures of fins exceeded 1,400 kg (3,100 lb) this year, official data show.
Shark fin is a status symbol for many Chinese, prized as nourishment and consumed in a shredded jelly-like soup.
Restaurants across China serve it at traditional banquets, despite a 2014 crackdown by President Xi Jinping on extravagance and a ban on serving the delicacy at official functions.
Hong Kong permits shark fin imports, but species listed by the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) require a permit.
With more than 70 million sharks killed each year, over a quarter of species have been driven to extinction, the WWF says.
Activists were attacking Chinese culture, which has a more than 500-year history of consumption of shark fin, said Ricky Leung, chairman of the Hong Kong Marine Products Association.
“Hong Kong importers are quite honest about endangered shark fins,” Leung, who runs a dried seafood company, told Reuters.
“They do not easily import illegal items but once in a while the shipments contain these kinds of species.”
More conservation efforts are needed, said Jo Cadman, one of those at the protest.
“It is much more than culture now, it’s about the future of our planet.”
Reporting by Pak Yiu and Farah Master; Editing by Clarence Fernandez