Last week HK Express Airlines, in support of global wildlife conservation efforts, said it would no longer carry shark fin in the bellies of its passenger planes, according to a report in The South China Morning Post. Of the 35 airlines that have already pledged to stop transporting shark fin, HK Express is the first Chinese carrier.
Shark fin has long been a delicacy in high-end Chinese cuisine. However, in recent years, there has been a backlash against the practice of eating shark fin due to the cruelty involved in the fin harvesting process and its damaging ecological footprint. Even though de-finned sharks are often returned to the ocean alive, their mobility is often greatly compromised and most die as a result.
Although HK Express is not a significant cargo player, with its fleet of A320 passenger aircraft, the move could urge other carriers in the region to espouse similar practices, especially if some of the carrier’s key investors take note. Haikou-based Hainan Group owns a 49 percent stake in HK Express and is the owner of cargo carrier Yangtze River Express, and also Hainan Airlines.
Still, not all parties perceive the ban as progress; pro-lobby groups argue that the eating of shark fins is part of Chinese culture. Banning the fins would be analogous to “a French airline banning foie gras or Russian airlines banning caviar,” according to Ricky Leung Lak-kee, chairman of the Marine Products Association. This has led other carriers, including Cathay Pacific, to strike a compromise. Instead of an outright ban, the airline has adopted a “sustainable” shark-fin policy, which it says is “consistent with the principles of sustainable development.”
Airfreight’s role in moving shark fin through Hong Kong has dropped dramatically in recent years. According to government data, in 2015 a total of 450 tonnes of shark fin moved through Hong Kong by air. This reflects a significant drop from the 5,717 tonnes transported five years prior in 2010.