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Goal to make Singapore free of shark's fins

A series of anti-shark’s fin campaigns by various groups are taking place islandwide over the next few months with a common goal: To make Singapore fin-free in the near term.

The advocates are arguing for a ban on trade of the popular dish and its consumption at official banquets and functions. They are also hoping to persuade Chinese restaurants here to remove the dish from their menus and corporate events.

Two communities - Chong Pang and Canberra under Nee Soon GRC - have banned the dish from being served at official functions.

Two weeks ago, the No Sharks Fins Singapore campaign was the first to launch here, organised by avid diver Michael Aw. After garnering enthusiastic support - 80,000 responses at an online petition earlier in January - organisers decided to take it a step further.

They hope to persuade all Chinese restaurants here to remove this dish - considered a traditional Chinese delicacy - by next year and will be conducting outreach programmes at schools. Non-profit organisations like World Wildlife Fund campaign are lending their weight behind this campaign.

Another group, Shark Savers, is due to embark on four campaigns over the next few months, with the end goal of persuading the authorities to impose a trade ban as well as a ban of the dish at official functions.

Speaking to Today, Mr Jonn Lu, who is leading efforts of the international shark conservation group, said that, while no other country in this region has imposed a total trade ban, Singapore is well positioned to be the first.

“To date, no country with a significant stake in this industry, be it a fishing, trading or a consumptive one, has done anything to protect sharks. Herein lies a golden opportunity for the Singapore Government to come across as a thought and policy leader,” he said.

Last year, Singapore imported about 3,500 tonnes of shark’s fin, 40 per cent more than the previous year. Explaining that in the past the focus was on education, Mr Lu said now there is little time for these efforts to bear fruit - hence the call for a ban.

According to Mr Lu, those from within the trading industry have estimated that sharks face extinction within a decade, while scientists give estimates of about 20 years.

Worldwide estimates are that about 100 million sharks are killed for their fins each year, although scientists are not sure. Internationally, calls for bans from environmentalists have met with limited success.

To date, only five states in the United States have passed Bills banning the sale, trade and possession of shark’s fins. California - the biggest market for this trade outside Asia - became the latest to implement the ban starting in January this year.

In China, negotiations are on-going for a trade and banqueting ban, said Mr Lu. According to reports, a legislation proposal for the latter was drawn up this year.

When contacted about the possibility of a ban here, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority said that “it will continue to monitor the conservation status of sharks and restrict trade in any species, which is endangered”.

A spokesman added that Singapore follows the lead of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which decides every three years if an animal is threatened with extinction.

In recent months, a string of local supermarkets, such as FairPrice and Carrefour, and hotels like Shangri-La pledged to stop serving or selling the dish.

Shark Savers’ efforts to spread its cause among the community here will focus on those aged between 10 to 45 years. The campaigns here will focus on social media, short ‘101’ lessons held within the community to educate people on sharks, a Shark Aid concert, as well as print and television advertisements.

As to chances of winning enough support to successfully call for a ban, Mr Lu is optimistic as people now are “more interested than they were 10 to 15 years ago”.

He warned that loss of sharks as apex predators could lead to a “cascading effect” on wild fish stocks and commercial fisheries.

“We need to save them now for selfish reasons: Being apex predators, they are absolutely critical in the maintenance of balance and harmony within food pyramids and food webs,” he added.

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