China's Anti-Corruption Crackdown Is Saving Sharks

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Shark Fin
Shark fin soup is on the decline in China because of a government crackdown on lavish banquets that usually serve the exotic dish.

Xi Jinping’s continued crackdown on corruption, and on all the spoils that come with it --  like lavish banquets and expensive watches -- have had many unintended economic consequences. As Xi’s new order has led to officials changing their taste for expensive exotic dishes like shark-fin soup to less decadent ones, conservationists say a positive impact has been made in preserving the shark population.

Experts have directly attributed the recent flourishing of the sharks to reduced spending on shark-fin dishes. “We are seeing a reduction in demand from the Chinese mainland,” Angelo Villagomez, a shark specialist with the U.S.-based conservation group Pew Charitable Trusts, told Chinese news outlet Sina

Hong Kong is also showing a significant decline in shark-fin soup consumption. Villagomez said the anti-corruption crackdown has been the leading reason why fewer sharks are killed, outweighing efforts made by several Pacific island governments to maintain shark sanctuaries.

“It has nothing to do with conservation,” Villagomez said. “It’s related to a Chinese government anti-graft crackdown, which has cut back on dinners where shark fin soup was featured on the menu.”

The profound impact that the crackdown has had on shark preservation is a reminder of just how much shark fin was consumed in China. Though China’s State Council officially announced it would stop serving shark fin at government banquets last summer, Xi’s crackdown on banquet foods -- and any show of extravagance -- has continued to diminish sales. According to data by the Ministry of Commerce, shark fin sales dropped by 70 percent since last year.

Before that, at least 100 million yuan, or $16 million, was reportedly spent on shark fin consumption in Beijing alone during official and business banquets, according to the Beijing-based NGO China Zero Shark Fin. According to additional data, the daily consumption during September of last year of shark fin in Beijing was about 7,500 kilograms, which is over 16,500 pounds, with prices for a single bowl of soup reaching 1,800 yuan, or a little less than $300.

Many are hoping that the downward trend will last and permanently stop shark poaching. “Less demand will lead to less poaching,” Wang Xue of China Zero Shark Fin told Sina. “We wish to see the declining demand last a long time, instead of being a short-period response to government policy.”

People like Villagomez are optimistic that shark fin soup will lose its appeal soon as tastes change among the Chinese, particularly among the young and the wealthy. “The culture is changing in Asia among younger people,” he said. “They aren’t eating shark fin soup as much.”

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