Air China became the first airline in China to ban the transportation of shark fin cargo on its flights, announcing the ban on Friday. The move has been celebrated as a victory for shark conservation advocates. In Friday’s announcement, the Beijing-based airline said:
“We were one of the first airlines in China to raise the awareness of the unsustainability of the global shark trade. We understand the community’s desire to promote responsible and sustainable marine sourcing practices, and this remains important to Air China Cargo’s overall sustainable development goals.”
The ban is significant, since China is one of the world’s foremost importers of shark fins. According to Alex Hofford, a Hong Kong activist with WildAid, a conservation group, roughly 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, with the majority “destined for China.”
Hofford said the decision by Air China is particularly important, saying to the Washington Post, “It’s a bold move, and… is likely to have a huge and lasting impact on shark populations and marine ecosystems worldwide.”
Air China will become one of at least 35 airlines to commit to such a ban, including other Asian carriers such as Singapore Airlines. Seventeen global container shipping companies, such as China’s largest shipping and logistics company, Cosco Shipping, have also committed to a ban on the transport of shark fins. WildAid said last week that it planned to pressure other Chinese airlines and shipping firms to enact a shark fin ban. They said on their website:
“WildAid… will be approaching China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Beijing Capital Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Xiamen Air, Tianjin Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, SF Airlines and all other airlines [to] follow Air China’s leadership in protecting sharks by cutting off the supply chain of shark fin to significant markets for endangered species such as Hong Kong and Guangzhou.”
The group also took aim at American courier FedEx for failing to enact such a ban even in the face of campaigns, protests, and petitions urging such a measure be taken. It has stood by its refusal even as competitors DHL and UPS have banned transport of shark fins.
Conservationists consider the trade in shark fins to represent the biggest threat to shark populations around the world, served in a soup that is considered a delicacy in much of Asia. The fins are often removed while the shark is still alive, with the shark left to die afterwards. Campaigns to end the demand for the fins have picked up in recent years, finding some success, as the dish is no longer served at Chinese state banquets, or at a number of major hotels in the region.