Shark fin off the menu of Singapore's largest supermarkets

A shark that has been caught for its fins
Singapore's largest supermarket chain will stop selling shark fin products from April 2012 after a comment by one of its suppliers triggered calls for a boycott from activists and the public.

NTUC FairPrice - a co-operative run by the city-state's national trades union - made the announcement last week after receiving hundreds of complaints.

The uproar was sparked by one of the chain's shark fin suppliers, which made the comment 'Screw the divers!' in an online promotional message for a new product to be launched at FairPrice outlets during the upcoming Lunar New Year. The comment, apparently directed at divers campaigning against the shark fin trade, went viral on Facebook and microblogging site Twitter.

Many of the reactions advocated a boycott of the supplier and FairPrice.

In a statement, FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng said the chain was ceasing sales of shark fin products by the end of March.

'This will be the last Chinese New Year in which customers can buy shark fin products at all our stores,' said Seah.

Jennifer Lee, founder of Project Fin, a local group campaigning to reduce shark fin consumption, welcomed the supermarket chain's decision.

'It is encouraging to see FairPrice respond promptly to the public reaction. They can progress further by selling only sustainable food,' she said on Friday.

According to conservation group WWF, Singapore is the second largest shark fin trading centre after Hong Kong.

WWF-Hong Kong says the consumption of shark fins is a driving factor behind the threat to shark populations, with more than 180 species considered threatened in 2010 compared with only 15 in 1996.

In September last year, Cold Storage became the first supermarket chain in Singapore to stop shark fin sales as part of a collaboration with the WWF, local media reported.

Australia is not exempt from its own contribution to the shark fin trade. The latest figures for Australian shark exports obtained by WWF in 2008 show that more than 500 tonnes of shark product was sent to mostly Asian markets that year. These numbers do not include the amounts of sharks imported into Australia, discarded as by-catch or caught and consumed in domestic markets.

Overseas retailers and manufacturers snap up around 230 tonnes of shark fins, 23 tonnes of squalene, an ingredient often used for cosmetics, 46 tonnes of shark liver oil, 12 tonnes of shark cartilage powder, and thousands of kilograms of meat from sharks fished in Australian waters.

Using AQIS data from 2008, the major export hubs for sharks appear to be Melbourne and Brisbane, with Cairns port sending 60 tonnes of shark fin to Asian markets.

Melbourne, the major export centre for shark products, sends 37 tonnes of shark fins bound for Philippines and 46 tonnes of shark liver oil mostly for Japanese markets. Twenty-three tonnes of squalene is sent from Melbourne.

In Brisbane, 85 tonnes of shark product, mostly shark fin and fillets are sent to Hong Kong and the Phillipines, and shark cartilage exported to the US.

'We risk going down in the history books as the generation that let sharks go extinct because of an insatiable market for shark products,' Dr Llewellyn said. 'Sharks play a crucial role in the balance and health of marine ecosystems and are especially vulnerable to overfishing, and yet currently there are few effective controls on fishing or trade. Sharks are slow-growing, long-lived, and produce few young.'

Sharks caught in the Coral Sea, the Great Barrier Reef and major northern Australian fishing spots, may well end up as sharkfin soup, haemorrhoid cream, lacquer and glue, tourist curios, tanning lotion, horse supplements, preservative for boats, anti-aging cream, luxury sharkskin boots, shark heart sashimi, petfood and, even as an alternative cure for cancer.

'One of the most important decisions we can make on behalf of this critically important species is to fully protect pristine areas like the Coral Sea and pupping and nursery grounds in the Great Barrier Reef so that shark and other marine animal populations can recover,' Dr Llewellyn said. 'By exporting shark fin, without guaranteeing the future for at-risk species of sharks, Australia continues to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.'

More at wwf.org.au