Thailand – Australia – United Kingdom

Archive for October 16, 2008

Shark Fin Sales in Tesco Lotus

Big Blue Tech has just received a mail from a dive instructor working here in Phuket, about shark fin sales in Tesco Lotus Phuket.

These pictures were taken in Tesco Phuket on the 6th October 2008 and show 500g packets of Shark Fin freely available in the freezer cabinet. For anyone not from the UK, Tesco is the largest supermarket chain in the UK.

Wondering what the big deal is? OK, first thing to do is watch the following link and watch to the end so that you can see how shark fin is obtained (and be talked through things by award winning director Ang Lee)…

As you can see, this is not exactly the most humane of processes, and I had to root around a bit to find a relatively tame video!! But before you fin them, you have to catch them, right? The vast majority of sharks are caught by long lining. Now, I’m sure that most of you buy tinned tuna that is ‘dolphin friendly’, i.e. not caught on long lines, as there was a massive public outcry that the by-catch on these lines (that are generally in excess of 20km in length) such as turtles, dolphins, sea birds and so on was a disgrace.

Companies listened, as profits were taking a big hit, and lo and behold tuna is now generally obtained from non-long lining sources. But the long lining continues in order to catch sharks, and so the ‘useless by-catch’ is still being caught. Oh, and by the way, the lines have to be baited (and 20km+ requires a lot of bait)….but what to use? One of the most common baits is illegally caught dolphin. Getting angry yet?

OK, back to the sharks. Once the sharks are on the long line, one of two things happens. Either they struggle, get caught up in the line and suffocate as they can’t move around to move water through their gills, or they get dragged aboard the boat alive, have their fins removed, and are thrown back in the water alive where they sink to the bottom and die. Slowly. At this point you may be wondering a couple of things.

Firstly…why do they throw away the shark? Well, shark meat doesn’t store well and is worth comparatively nothing compared to the fins. Also, it takes up lots of space on a fishing boat that could be taken up with lots more valuable shark fin.

Secondly…why the fins? Shark fin soup is a popular (and expensive) Chinese delicacy. It is sold in huge numbers in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan, Seoul, and Tokyo among many others. In fact, have a look in your local yellow pages and you’ll probably find restaurants selling it not too far away from your home, wherever you live. It is often seen as a status symbol but is also popular in Chinese medicine as sharks are seen as strong creatures. Eat the strong creature and become strong yourself. Quite. Interestingly, shark fin is boiled and bleached before use to remove it’s natural (apparently unpleasant) taste and so shark fin soup will generally taste of the broth it is cooked in, usually pork or chicken.

Thirdly…is this legal? Well, yes and no. Any country with a coastline is responsible for laws and regulations pertaining to fishing in their waters, and only 17 of these countries have currently outlawed shark finning. Some countries have implemented legislation against it, but they have not outlawed it completely.

But back to Tesco for a moment. It’s worth noting here that regardless of the legality of the practice, shark finning is contrary to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) International Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks. Here’s a quote from Tesco’s website for you. “We are playing our part in seeking to maintain a viable and long-term future for wild fish and shellfish populations. We seek to buy all our seafood from responsibly managed fisheries. We use the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries as our sourcing reference.” Interesting. Maybe they fell asleep before they got to the bit about sharks.

I could go on and on about this subject all day, and probably through the night and into tomorrow, but I realise that some of you may not be particularly interested so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. But that said, please check out the following links and make your own decisions…. (and watch the movie, it’s heart-breaking and inspiring in equal measure)

These were just chosen at random from a myriad of large anti-shark finning organisations.

Want to do something about it? Contact Tesco, their e-mail address is Us at Big Blue Tech and probably many other dive centres already mailed them about the issue and are awaiting a response. They also have a ‘Corporate Responsibility Team’, although these guys may live in the middle ages as they have neither e-mail or a phone number. If you want to write an old fashioned letter (or maybe send a carrier pigeon), their address is…

Corporate Responsibility Team
Tesco PLC
New Tesco House
Delamare Road
England EN8 9SL
If you’re now half and half as to whether to do anything, let us know by sending us a short e-mail and we can send you a copy of the mail, we have sent to Tesco. All you have to do then is cut and paste it into a new mail and send it to the e-mail address above. Don’t forget to put your name at the bottom. This will take only two minutes of your time.
And I have two final things to say. For anyone who has read this and is thinking that sharks are evil tooth filled killing machines, here’s a little fact…

Sharks kill on average 5 people every year, which is less than are killed by either soft drinks dispensers or chairs (seriously). It is also significantly less than the 130 people killed by Americas biggest ‘man-killer’ every year. The deer.

Is it worth the 11000 sharks killed hourly around the globe? Please help to stop this abhorrent trade and forward this mail to anyone you think may care.

Many thanks,
Big Blue Tech and Big Blue Diving