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Hotel customers in Asia should complain if they see shark's fin on the menu: environmentalist Dr Jane Goodall

Speaking at an event in Singapore, the revered conservationist likened the custom of eating shark's fin to people in medieval England watching public hangings for entertainment, and said culture will change in time.

Eminent conservationist Dr Jane Goodall has called on hotel customers in Asia to complain to the venues’ management if they see shark’s fin soup on the menu.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday held at a hotel in Singapore which, like many others in the city-state, serves the controversial dish on request for special occasions, Goodall likened the tradition of eating shark’s fin soup to the custom of families going to watch public hangings for entertainment in medieval England, and said that cultures would change in time.

She cited a policy by the China government to ban shark’s fin at state banquets as a reason for hope that the dish—which is chiefly responsible for the harvesting of an estimated 100 million sharks a year—would eventually be phased out in Asia, where it is traditionally served at Chinese weddings.

“The problem is when it’s [shark’s fin] at a wedding. And if you don’t have shark’s fin [the belief is] that the man won’t be fertile and won’t be able to produce babies—and that’s a hard one to crack,” said the 85 year-old conservationist and animal welfare campaigner, who leads conservation groups Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots, and is best known for her 55-year study of wild chimpanzees in Africa.

Say, ‘the food was delicious, but I was shocked to see shark’s fin soup on the menu’. If people did that, it [the situation] would soon start to change.

Dr Jane Goodall, founder, The Jane Goodall Institute

Goodall recalled a conversation with a “very high up person” she knew in Hong Kongthe world’s biggest trader in shark’s fin (Singapore is the second biggest trader)who had declined for the dish to be served at his wedding. He told her that his relatives were shocked that shark’s fin was not served. “I said, ‘But don’t you have to you? [serve shark’s fin, since it’s tradition]’ He said: ‘No, I don’t. It’s an old wives’ tale [that shark’s fin aids fertility].”

She added that the consumption of shark’s fin is much like the use of rhino horn or pangolin scales—which are both made of the same fibre as human hair and finger nails and —in traditional medicine, which continues despite having no scientific basis, and education would help end the practice.

On hotels and restaurants in Asia serving shark’s fin, Goodall said the responsbility to reduce consumption did not just lie with company management.

“It’s the customers. Write a complaint [to the company]. Say, ‘the food was delicious, but I was shocked to see shark’s fin soup on the menu’. If people did that, it [the situation] would soon start to change,” she said.

Hongkong & Shanghai Hotels, the owner of the prestigious Peninsula Hotel brand, was the first hotel group in Asia to take shark’s fin off its menu in 2011, and other hotel chains, such as Shangri-La, have followed suit.

Last year, 89 Singapore-based establishments committed to phasing out shark’s fin, including Crystal Jade, Pan Pacific Hotels, AccorHotels and food deliveries service Foodpanda, following a campaign by green group World Wide Fund for Nature.

Besides Asia’s demand for shark’s fin, the appetite for shark meat in countries such as the United States is another factor contributing to the decline in shark populations. The lack of information on species of shark being traded and sold also leads to the consumption of endangered species. 

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