Luxury hotel chain Shangri-La has announced it will stop serving shark fin at its 72 properties worldwide, as the campaign to protect the marine predators gains ground among Chinese consumers.
The Hong Kong-based group said it would cease serving shark fin in all of its restaurants as well as accepting new orders for shark fin products in banqueting with immediate effect, under a "sustainable seafood policy".
Shark fin soup is viewed by many Asians as a rare delicacy and is traditionally served at wedding parties and business banquets in Hong Kong, which handles around 50 percent of the global shark fin trade.
Shangri-La said it would also phase out Bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass, which are under the threat of extinction, at all restaurants within the year.
"The new policy is a continuation of Shangri-La's journey towards environmental support," the hotel chain said in a statement late Tuesday.
"Shangri-La will continue to review and refine its overall programmes including environmental and sustainability issues."
The announcement came two months after Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotels group said it would stop selling shark fin from this year, in a move hailed as a breakthrough for shark conservation.
Peninsula said the decision was made in view of the threat facing the global shark population, which scientists believe is essential to the overall health of the seas.
Shangri-La's move also comes just before Chinese New Year which falls on Monday, when shark fin will be in higher than normal demand for festive banquets throughout Asia.
About 73 million sharks are killed every year, with Hong Kong importing about 10 000 tonnes annually for the past decade, according to environmental group WWF.
More than 180 shark species were considered threatened in 2010, compared to only 15 in 1996.
Fall in demand for shark
WWF Hong Kong conservation programme officer Silvy Pun said the hotels were responding to falling demand for shark meat.
"Obviously this is a very positive development. The hotels are contributing to shark conservation, they are leading the catering sector in Hong Kong to change," she told AFP on Wednesday.
"Their action reflects the market is changing and the falling demand for shark fin products. We are making a big step here so I urge other businesses to follow suit."
The campaign has also received a boost in Singapore, after French retail giant Carrefour and the mainly ethnic Chinese city state's largest supermarket chain, NTUC FairPrice, said this month they would no longer stock shark fin.
"More and more young couples have decided not to have shark fin on their wedding banquet menu," Hong Kong marine conservation group Bloom project coordinator Stanley Shea said.
Other international hotel groups which continue to sell shark fin soup include Four Seasons, Hilton, Nikko and Regal, citing the traditional aspect of the expensive dish to Chinese customers.
But a Bloom survey last year showed that some 78 percent of Hong Kong respondents considered it socially acceptable to leave shark fin soup off the menu at a wedding banquet.