Once Again, The Hong Kong Government Proves Stubborn On Shark Fin

This, spotted in Hong Kong's busy Central district during rush hour tonight...

Today, Edward Yau, Hong Kong's so-called "Secretary for the Environment", came out officially in the city's semi-autonomous Legislative Council to say that the Hong Kong Government would not change its position on the consumption of shark fin by government officials, and/or legislate against the city's thriving shark fin trade. Going headlong against a ground swell of public opinion, the government maintains the same position it has held since 2005. Once again, Edward Yau of the Environment Bureau is hiding behind the excuse of C.I.T.E.S. - an industry body, that actually enables, rather than prevents, the trade in endangered species. A bit like putting the fox in charge of the chickens, that sort of thing. Anyway, Kudos to Legislator Audrey Eu of the Civic Party who asked today's questions. She's an awesome lady, and she spoke at our press conference back in September too.

Ever quick on the draw, Diego Laje, Argentinian journalist and ex-class mate of mine at the Hong Kong University JMSC, has blogged eloquently on the depressing news here.

Presented below is the full, and somewhat adulterated, text of today's depressing LegCo exchange. My red highlights denote and [comment on] what I believe to be Yau's most dubious quotes:-



Overseas Public Relations Sub-division
Information Services Department

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

LCQ11: Reducing consumption of shark's fin

     Following is a question by the Hon Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Legislative Council meeting today (January 12):


     Some environmental groups have pointed out that as only three species of shark are at present protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, more than a hundred shark species and closely related species included by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in its Red List of Threatened Species may still face the danger of extinction due to overfishing.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of banquets and dining parties the Government hosted at public expenses last year, the amount involved, and the number of such banquets in which the menu included shark's fin, with a breakdown by government department;

(b) whether the various government departments had formulated guidelines on suspending the consumption of shark's fin in banquets hosted at public expenses in the past five years; if not, whether they will consider formulating such guidelines; and

(c) whether last year the Government had educated members of the public and promoted the message of reducing consumption of shark's fin in order to safeguard the ecological balance; if it had, of the resources devoted in this regard; if not, the reasons for that?



     My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:

(a) In respect of using public funds on official banquets and meals, the Government has internal guidelines that set their budgets which departments need to observe.  When organising official entertainments, we also emphasise that the occasion should be decent but not give an impression that it is extravagant.  Hence, when departments use public funds to organise banquets and meals, the menus do not generally include shark fin.  [This is doublespeak, and means that they do sometimes serve it.]

     As regards information on the number of banquets and meals the Government organised using public funds last year, the amount involved, the number of such banquets in which the menu included shark fin, and with a breakdown by government departments, such extensive information involves all departments and their offices, and covers a wide scope.  And since we also do not keep information on menus for banquets and meals of different scales held in the past, we are not in a position to provide such detailed information.  [The Hong Kong Government is a sprawling bureaucracy, of course they have the "detailed information". They just do not think the issue is important enough to dig it up and compile it into a report.]

(b) Currently, there are about 320 shark species, most of which could be freely traded in Hong Kong.  Three shark species, i.e. Great White Shark, Basking Shark and Whale Shark, have been listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  The CITES is an international agreement among governments of different states, which seeks to ensure that the survival of wild animals and plants will not be threatened because of international trade.  The Government is committed to protecting endangered species. [!!!] We implement the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Chapter 586) to strictly regulate the trade of species listed in the Appendices of CITES to fulfil the CITES requirements.  At present, the laws of Hong Kong regulate the trading of shark species in accordance with the CITES requirements.  With regard to the shark species not yet listed in CITES, the laws of Hong Kong do not restrict its commercial trade.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an international conservation organisation, and its works include compiling a list which lists out the conservation status of different species around the world.  In considering whether to list certain species in the CITES Appendices, the CITES Conference of the Parties will consider a number of factors including the specie's quantity, management status, and will also draw reference from the list compiled by IUCN.

     The Government all along abides by CITES [See Doug Woodring's Op-Ed piece in the SCMP below] and the local legislation.  We do not think it is appropriate to lay down guidelines to regulate the kind of food to be consumed in official banquets and meals. [Why not? Around 80 corporations in Hong Kong have done exactly that - by signing up to the WWF's corporate pledge not to serve shark fin at their company dinners.]

(c) Paying heed to the principle of sustainable development, the Government adheres strictly to the CITES requirements.   We also conduct public education on CITES, which is one of the most important elements in implementing CITES in Hong Kong.  Specifically, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has paid considerable efforts in publicity and education, in order to raise the awareness of the members of the public on protecting endangered species.  The AFCD organises a series of educational and publicity activities every year, which include dissemination of relevant information through the media and internet, distribution of leaflets and posters, organisation of exhibitions and seminars; and operation of the Endangered Species Resources Centre for educational purpose, etc.  In 2010, the AFCD has organised 32 exhibitions, 37 relevant seminars, and received over 7,000 visitors at the Endangered Species Resources Centre.  Apart from public education, AFCD also has specific publicity programmes that target at traders.  AFCD has produced and handed out a series of leaflets that focuses on trade of endangered species (including trade of marine species).  Moreover, AFCD sends circular letters to traders, organises consultation meetings as well as seminars, in order to disseminate information about legislative control of endangered species to the trade.



And in case there was any doubt as to whether the corporate sector is leading the Hong Kong Government on the issue or not, here is the (growing) list of 'good guys' in town that have signed the WWF pledge, and sworn of the dreaded shark fin...


  • ADM Capital
  • ADM Capital Foundation
  • Allan International Holdings Ltd.
  • Allen & Overy LLP
  • Asiatic Marine Ltd
  • Atkins China Limited
  • B.P. (Building & Engineering) Co. Ltd.
  • BCI Asia Construction Information Ltd.
  • Bowen Capital Management
  • Branded Limited
  • Branscombe Marine Consultants Ltd.
  • BUDA E&C Limited
  • BUDA Pipe Rehabilitation & Engineering Company Limited
  • BUDA Surveying Limited
  • Canon Hongkong Co. Ltd
  • Citi Hong Kong
  • Collyer Logistics South China Ltd
  • Construction Professionals' Development Centre
  • Craft Projects International Co. Ltd
  • Diving Express Ltd
  • DTZ
  • Eight Custom Media Limited
  • Fiducia Management Concultants
  • Gide Loyrette Nouel
  • Hallmark Cards (HK) Limited
  • Hang Seng Bank Limited
  • Home Retail Group (Asia) Limited
  • Hong Kong and China Gas Company Limited
  • Hong Kong Cancer Fund
  • Hong Kong Institute of Utility Specialists
  • Hong Kong Utility Research Centre
  • HSBC
  • i.Dex Development Ltd
  • Internet Professional Association
  • Jenston Technology Corporation Ltd.
  • Jenston Works Co., Ltd.
  • Johnson Matthey Hong Kong Limited
  • Jones Lang LaSalle
  • Lloyd Northover
  • Magnum Offset Printing Co. Ltd
  • Mandarin Orange Clothing
  • Manulife (International) Limited
  • MF Jebsen International Ltd
  • Mitsubishi Electric Hong Kong Group Limited
  • Mitsubishi Elevator Hong Kong Company Limited
  • MSOI Limited
  • Nearly Friday Ltd
  • Ocean Park Hong Kong
  • Oceanway Corporation Limited
  • PPP Company Ltd
  • ProJOB21.com Ltd
  • Pure Fitness
  • Pure Yoga
  • Robot Design Ltd
  • Ronald Lu & Partners (Hong Kong) Ltd
  • SB Consulting
  • Shaw & Sons Limited
  • Simpson Marine Limited Hong Kong
  • Sovereign Trust (Hong Kong) Limited
  • Sterling Enterprises Ltd
  • Swire Beverages Limited
  • Swire Coca- Cola HK
  • Swire Properties Limited
  • Swiss Re
  • The Hong Kong Institute of Education
  • The Samaritans
  • The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong)
  • The University of Hong Kong
  • ThreeSixty
  • United Services Recreation Club
  • Unleash Limited
  • US & Associates Consulting Co. Ltd.
  • UTI (International) Limited
  • Utility INFO (1Call) Limited
  • Utility INFO (HK) Limited
  • Utility INFO (Macau) Limited
  • Utility INFO Limited
  • Westminster Travel Limited
  • Wharf T&T Limited
  • Wind Prospect (HK) Ltd
  • Xi Yan

Finally, here is Doug Woodring's opinion piece in the South China Morning Post (6th January 2011) which spells out perfectly why C.I.T.E.S. is such a sham and why the Hong Kong Government should be ashamed of itself.


Hong Kong is hiding behind spineless conservation treaty

It was upsetting to learn that the Agriculture,Fisheries and Conservation Department felt it necessary to stay friends with the industry that trades shark fins ("Officials refuse to go without shark's fin soup", December 22). I wonder if officials could explain this rationale. Not that one needs to make enemies, but no sharks are caught in Hong Kong waters, and it is a known problem that the world's shark population, that which regulates the ecosystem balance of our oceans, is in rapid decline.

The Jockey Club should be congratulated for dropping shark's fin dishes from its a la carte menus and internal functions. In contrast, the agriculture department is hiding behind an outdated and ineffective Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which is supposed to reduce species loss.

Instead, it often acts as a regulating tool for exploitation by the nations which have vested interests in maintaining the trade in those species on the road to extinction. By the time Cites regulations usually kick in for preservation, it is too late. No shark fishery is sustainable, as the time it takes a shark to become sexually mature is well beyond what one could control in terms of open water catch practices and regulations.

Cites has failed miserably in terms of shark protection, mainly due to the lack of global capacity for studies and monitoring of an animal that lives throughout the ocean, but where none of us go. So instead of doing the right thing, to call for protection, the claim is made that not enough proof exists to make strong regulations. Should Hong Kong be hiding behind such a spineless conservation system?

One of the biggest social contributions Hong Kong could give to the global community is to cease the trade and use of shark fins.

The impact on the ocean would be significant, and not only for sharks. The world's bluefin tuna population has been shown to be in rapid decline, not only because of overfishing, but because of the loss of sharks.

Without sharks, the predators of baby bluefin tuna can now proliferate, killing off the bluefin before they can mature.

We are doing this all to ourselves, for the sake of a tiny segment of our business community which could be trading thousands of other products in the meantime.

The department should be ashamed of itself for hiding behind an international treaty which does not come close to conserving what needs to be conserved. This is contradictory to the good work it has been doing to support the ban on trawling in Hong Kong waters.

To then claim that it needs to maintain friendship with the shark trade which is a tiny constituency is like saying that it needs to keep the option of tiger trading open.

This merely suggests that there is some strange business going on that the rest of us should probably know about. We would love to hear about it, too.

Douglas Woodring, Mid-Levels


Hong Kong Shark Fin Sidewalk on The Guardian 'Conservation Stories of 2010' Slideshow

 A nice start to 2011...


Merry Christmas, Rupdolph!

Deer antler slices for sale at Qing Ping wild animal product market, Guangzhou, China, 23 November 2010. Antlers from the velvet deer are a common ingredient in Chinese medicine.

Last year, some folk in the Langshan region of Hunan Province took the purported medicinal benefits of deer horn just a little bit too far...


Hong Kong Shark Fin Sidewalk

OK, I'm back.

A friend called me up today with a tip-off, saying "you gotta come here now and shoot this!"

So I did. The location is Fung Mat Road, a quiet area of Hong Kong in between the Whitty Street Tram Depot and the Western Wholesale Vegetable Market.

I tried to count the fins, but I got dizzy very quickly.

These two muppets were guarding them. Imagine what this scene would look like if the bodies were still attached to those shark fins. And now imagine that scene again, but this time underwater. And now imagine that scene one last time with those two guys swimming at the surface!

It is very difficult to photograph shark fins drying in the sun in places like South Africa and Costa Rica. The shark fins drying there are usually kept out of sight behing high breezeblock walls with barbed wire and security cameras. By Chinese organized crime syndicates. The same ones they have here. This is because global shark fin traders know they are doing bad stuff and do not want negative publicity. However in Asia's World City, shark fin drying is done in public - in flagrante, as my friend so well put it today.

How long will it be until this is illegal in Hong Kong? I mean this is really nuts. Totally unsustainable. Even I am shocked.

How long will the Hong Kong Government continue to hide behind C.I.T.E.S.?

Utterly. Speechless.

Watch an iPhone video of it too.


The Axis Of Evil At The Closing Ceremony Of The Guangzhou Asian Games...

OK, so who did the seating plan?

My photo position for the closing ceremony tonight, whilst great for the fireworks, was directly in front of the North Korean delegation. Real, live, in the flesh, North Koreans. Can you imagine!?

I've long been fascinated with the place, but those delegates from the world's most secretive state didn't like it one bit when I took their photo.

Not entirely unexpectedly, I got the old hand in the lens treatment.

And one of them said, "...you know, it is Korean custom to ask before taking photo!", to which I replied, "well, you know it is also photojournalist custom to take natural unposed photos of people in real life situations!" He didn't get it.

So I took out the long lens instead.

"Why are you taking our picture?" 

"Because there is intense global interest in your country right now, as your leader seems hell bent on starting world war three", I replied as athletes from the renegade nuclear state filed by on the stage below us. The cadre replied, "You must come to our country to see that this is all lies and propaganda from your country!"

For those who don't already know, it should be noted that North Korea shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong this week, killing two marines and two civilians. Seriously, war on the Korean Peninsula has not been this close since the end of the Korean war in the 1950's.

This man from the hermit kingdom videoed the entire closing ceremony without a tripod. Strange. But hey, what's that pin on his lapel?

It's North Korea's 'Great Leader', Kim Il-sung, (수령), of course.

And hang on. Who are those guys in beige suits sitting behind the North Koreans?

My, my, what a coincidence. It's none other than delegates from the Islamic Republic of Iran!

Don't believe me? Let's zoom in on that pass around his neck.

Funny that. Trading nukes in the stands in Guangzhou?

Down on the field of play, Iranian athletes from the "Islamic" Republic certainly seemed to be having a whale of a time with some Chinese volunteer girls in mini-skirts. Not a burka in sight!

But back to those shady guys from Pyongyang.

Watching me, watching you, watching me.

Me and this guy played a cat and mouse game. Every time I tried to take a snap of him, he would conceal his face with his camera.

As the athletes filed by....

... the delagation took off their jackets to conceal their juche-flavoured Kim Il-Sung pins.

But wait, it gets even better. What's that guy's pin in the row in front of the North Koreans?

Alas, I didn't get a clear picture of the man's face, but what exactly is that flag on his lapel pin?

Zooming in, we can see it's the Syrian flag!

So now we have the delagations from Iran, North Korea and Syria all sitting cosily together! A full blown 'Axis of Evil' corner of the Haixinsha Square Stadium in Guangzhou. Like I said, who organized the seating? Is China providing a convenient locale for some serious networking and arms trading? And if so, why? Or maybe these guys from pariah states all band together naturally as they feel left out - ostracized by the rest of the world, like reject kids in the corner of the school playground. Or maybe they already know each other well. Scary thought. But seriously, why place the media position right next to them? An oversight on the part of the organizers? Maybe, but so many questions in my head...

Then, as the ceremony wound up, things got really interesting. Down on the stage below, a handover was taking place between China and South Korea. The sacred flame torch of the Asian Games was being passed from the mayor of Guangzhou to the mayor of Incheon, South Korea, as the next Games will be held there in 2014. First the Olympic Council of Asia flag was lowered, then the national flag of South Korea was raised. And, right on cue, just as the South Korean national anthem started to play, the entire North Korean delegation got up from their seats en masse, and walked out in protest.

They headed straight for the toilet.

Then they hung around outside for a bit, before leaving altogether. The event had become South Korean, and like a jealous kid, they wanted no part of it.

Childish. To think that this petulant country has nuclear weapons is a sobering thought.

Other memorable moments, (un-related to North Korea) include... riot police...


Love those small pastel-coloured plastic stools!

A stern-looking paramilitary policeman contrasting to the happy clappy volunteer colleagues.

They sang a nice song though. When I get back to Hong Kong I'll post a Youtbe link here.

Oh. And one last thing before I go back. As I predicted two weeks ago, China totally cleaned up in the medals.



Guangzhou Asian Games 2010, It's A Wrap...

I'm really tired. Not sure if its the bad air or exhaustion, but I have a hacking dry cough. Home time tomorrow...

First we had the etiquette angels, or smile robots as I like to call them.

More about these ladies here.

At the women's water polo medal ceremony, this girl's arms were actually trembling. I really thought she was going to drop that tray of gold medals. Now that would have made a great shot!

China vs Kazakhstan.

Uzbekistan vs India.

China (red) play Malaysia (black) in the women's beach volleyball. A cynical bid to drive more traffic to this website!

The Hong Kong women's team played during in the day. Better light.

China's Teng Haibin on the pommel horse exercise. He won the gold medal in the final of the men's individual all-around artistic gymnastics.

China's Lu Bo on the parallel bars.

Rythmic Gymnastics; (rope, ribbon, ball, hoop).

Kazakhstan's Anna Alyabeva took the gold. At every medal ceremony I attended, biting medals seemed to be the thing to do. Is that to prove they are not made out of chocolate or something? Yuk.


The guy on the left is from Hong Kong. He was pummeled by the Indonesian guy on the right.

The inevitable athletics, fastest man race.

The triple jump, where this girl from Kazakhstan won.


Another Kazakh. Visibly upset from coming in fourth, ie not even a bronze medal.

Elation. Korea's Lee Yeon Kyung celebrates after winning gold in the Women's 100m Hurdles Final.

And yes, chess was indeed one of the 'Asian Games' on offer too. Here are the officials having a pre-competition meeting.

The man on the left is from Turkmenistan. His Philippine opponent is giving him a big headache.

Chess was invented in Arabia in about the 6th century AD. Consequently, many Middle Eastern and Muslim nations were present at the knockout competition at the Guangzhou Chess Institute.

A Jordanian woman plays a Bangladeshi woman. 

Chinese chess, or xiangxi was also official game at the Guangzhou Asian Games.

Here's Taiwan's twelve year old xiangxi prodigy Peng Jou-an deep in concentration. Fascinating stuff.

And of course no China mega-event would be complete without a crop-haired goon holding a national flag.

It's time to go home...


China Takes Gold. As Usual.

What makes this such a bore-fest is that it's a foregone conclusion that China will win the entire thing.

At the end of the first day, China is already at the top of the medals table with the most gold.

Here's Wu Jingbiao winning the 'Men's 56kg' category weightlifting competition.


Opening Ceremony of the Guangzhou Asian Games 2010

I've been stuck on a media boat for ten hours now.

Security is tight, so no one is allowed on or off the boat. And there is nothing to eat apart from a few bread rolls and tangerines.

There was a boat parade and some fireworks. Rather splendid if you like that kind of thing.

But I think the right word for it is 'schmaltzy'.

China never tires of putting on these kind of mega-events to get the patriotic hordes going.

Tomorrow it's time to get stuck into some serious sport...


Happy Halloween!

31 October 2010, Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong, China.


It's Official: Hong Kong Is Now 'The Most Wasteful Place On Earth'

Hong Kong now leads the world in per capita production of trash.

A dubious honour indeed, and that's according to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report released earlier this week.* 

To celebrate the fact, I visited the Tseung Kwan O landfill. I gained access by finding a hole in the fence that runs alongside the adjacent Clear Water Bay Country Park.

Apparently, last year each Hong Kong resident produced, on average, 921 kilos of trash. That makes up a grand total of 6.45 million tonnes of trash for Hong Kong as a whole.

The OECD report said that this makes Hong Kong the most wasteful city in the world.

Compared to other industrialized nations, the city has very limited recycling options, and Hong Kong's last incinerator was shut down in 1997.

During my visit I saw a constant stream of trucks arriving one after the other to dump what looked like contrsuction waste, which I think is illegal. I would have loved to have got a bit closer, but since I didn't have permission from the EPD to be there, I had to stay at a distance - close to my bolt hole back into the Country Park!

Not wanting to go all the way round, I think the hole must be used by landfill workers as a short cut to the scenic Tai O Mun Road in Clearwater Bay.

* Unfortunately I couldn't actually link to the OECD report, as it seems the OECD website is down, at least for now.


All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011