Fins From an Estimated 38,500 Endangered Sharks Seized in Hong Kong

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An estimated 38,500 individual sharks were slaughtered for the 26-tonne haul (Photo: Hong Kong Customs)

A massive 26 tonnes of illegally smuggled shark fins have been seized by Hong Kong customs, the largest ever recorded in Hong Kong and more than all of the seizures made in 2019 combined. The fins are reportedly worth up to HK$8.6million, approximately US$1.1million.

The two containers were seized on 28 April and 4 May at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound. According to a Hong Kong Customs press release, each of the containers weighed 13 tonnes and was suspected of containing the dried fins of 'scheduled species' – ie those that are protected by law from being imported – mixed with 'non-scheduled' species. Estimates suggest up to 90 per cent of the fins were from scheduled, endangered species.

Hong Kong's list of scheduled species of shark includes silky sharks, oceanic whitetips, several species of hammerhead, threshers, porbeagles, basking sharks, great whites and whale sharks. According to a report in the South China Morning Post, the containers contained fins from approximately 38,500 endangered sharks, an estimated 31,000 thresher sharks and 7,500 silkies.

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The seized containers were reported to have shipped from Ecuador, a known hotspot for illegal shark fishing. The Galápagos Islands, where many shark species congregate throughout the year, are located approximately 1,000km offshore and are continuously targeted by illegal fishers. 

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Gloria Lai Pui-yin, a senior conservation officer for sustainability with animal rights group WWF-Hong Kong, said the scale of the seizure 'definitely came as a surprise', as only a total six tonnes of fins were seized between 2014 and 2018. 'This does not mean demand is rising again,' said Lai Pui-yin, 'it could be that traders are seeing a chance to ship the shark fins while government officials in other countries are preoccupied with efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.'

A 57-year-old man was arrested in connection with the smuggling operation on 29 April. Under Hong Kong's Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without a licence is liable to a maximum fine of HK$10million and imprisonment for 10 years.


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