New push to make Singapore shark's fin-free

New push to make Singapore shark's fin-free

The challenge will be to convince diners it's OK to just say "no" to what some feel is an out-dated tradition
The WWF says 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily for their fins.

Add Singapore to the list of countries trying to shake off an out-dated culinary tradition that’s fast becoming socially unacceptable among young Chinese.

Several anti-shark's fin campaigns are due to be launched in the city-state in the coming weeks. Among these, the Singapore branch of global non-profit group Shark Savers has teamed up with some well-known local personalities to launch "I'm FINished," a campaign aimed at changing mindsets, as well as the legal landscape, concerning the fin trade in Singapore.

According to Singapore media, last year the city imported about 3,500 tonnes of shark's fin, 40 per cent more than the previous year. The fins are commonly used in soup, with Chinese wedding banquets one of the most popular occasions for serving it. 

But given that the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) awards Singapore the dubious distinction of being the second-largest shark's fin trading centre after Hong Kong, it’s not going to be easy to convince local restaurants to remove the controversial soup from their menus. 

More on CNNGo: The Peninsula Hotel's Group bans shark's fin from menus 

Instead, the grassroots campaign aims to reverse the culture of consuming shark’s fin soup, and garner support for a banqueting and trade ban, says John Lu, director of Shark Savers Singapore

"I have met Singaporean shark lovers who shared their experiences and frustrated attempts to drive the message many years ago," he says. "Singaporeans are now far more receptive and I feel that the time is ripe for positive change to occur."

He says these days the challenge isn't to educate Singaporeans on the impact shark finning has on marine ecosystems, given they are generally savvy regarding the issue. The problem is that Asian notions of respect and “giving face” to hosts and elders find misguided application in this context.

"Those who have a personal conviction about shark’s fin soup generally do not dare to share this opinion with others," he says. "This cultural conditioning to be passive and quietly gracious creates a somewhat odd situation –- guests do not really want shark’s fin soup, while hosts continue to think that guests expect it, with both perhaps sharing the same misgivings about ordering and consuming the dish."

With this in mind, he says the Shark Savers’ "I'm FINished" campaign is designed to "urge individual action, personal conviction and promote respect for personal choice."

Helping Shark Savers get that message out is an army of over 20 well-known personalities, including Shark Savers ambassador Hossan Leong, Adrian Pang, Belinda Lee and Juan Jackson. 

On May 1, Shark Savers will hold a concert in Singapore called "Shark Aid 2012" hosted by Leong and featuring local and international artists. For more info, check out the Shark Savers Facebook page.

Big brands, bad ads fuel anti-fin movement

Though slow moving, the anti-shark finning cause is starting to have a noticeable impact in Asia. Several major hotel chains have already stopped serving shark's fin in all their properties, including The Peninsula and Shangri-La.

Locally, Lu says Singapore’s Indochine Group, which has properties in Thailand, Indonesia and Germany, also refuses to serve shark's fin, as well as dishes with caviar, sturgeon, blue and yellow finned tuna and sailfish –- all considered endangered by the WWF.

This month NTUC FairPrice -- Singapore's largest supermarket chain -- reportedly stopped selling shark's fin products in response to a comment by one of its suppliers that went viral online and triggered calls for a boycott from activists and the public earlier this year. 

To say it was a bad choice of words would be an understatement. The supplier allegedly commented "Screw the divers!" on a Facebook promotional message advertising a new shark's fin product.  

Karla is a digital producer with CNN Travel based in Bangkok, Thailand. 

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