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Field Notes: Shark's Fin City

Frontline Reports from the Lush Buying & Writing Teams

This week, Soapbox Channel Manager, Lauren Marina highlights the brutal treatment of sharks that takes place to meet the growing demand for the Asian delicacy Shark Fin soup and admits a recent visit to Hong Kong to see for herself the scale of the problem left her feeling overwhelmed...

Imagine the excruciating agony of one arm, then both arms, then both legs being taken away. Chopped off, sliced from your body. Your torso flung aside, still conscious, but dying. You gasp for breath, with no escape. This is the horrifying truth of for the millions of the planet’s vulnerable shark species that are brutally mutilated and left to die due to overfishing, often driven by demand for their fins. China’s growing economy has led to it being the major consumer of fin, but there is no doubt that this is a part of a global industry that  is having a devastating effect on shark populations worldwide.

It’s morning on Des Voeux Road, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong, the retail monopoly of dried seafood. Tens of small static circular dried fish eyes stare blankly out of a plastic bag, strung up like candy floss on metal railings on the side of the pavement. Bags upon bags of fish maw, seahorses, starfish, sea cucumber, and multitudes of other dried brown and beige items are on show, piles of unregonisable body parts from living beings that once were. 

The dry food is displayed in a long row of shops, open fronted to the bustling street. The smell of rancid fish, ammonia and bloody drains makes me feel nauseous in the already muggy and humid heat of the day. The shops glow brightly from within, crisp poles of artificial light reflecting off of glass cabinets full of more dried pale yellow items. As we pass each shop, shopkeepers eye our cameras with suspicion, and point at the ‘No Photograph’ laminated signs stuck to the walls. Large, illuminated shop signs hang outside each shop, one, notably, proudly calling itself  ‘Shark’s Fin City’.

The fin itself is easily recognisable since its natural  triangular shape is intact at the point of sale. Fins are displayed in a few different ways along the street; in clear plastic bags of around 40 or 50 fins; in large glass jars filled with a preserving urine-yellow coloured liquid; drying on big basket discs propped against the curb on the side of the road, or, when the fin is particularly large and impressive, in a glass case tied with a red ribbon symbolising the luxury of the ‘product’.

Shark's Fin City
Shark fin in jars

During our walk through the fish market we see a selection of different types of fin for sale. It’s a trade that attacks multiple species of shark, and, as our guide points out, manta ray is also sold as shark fin. We’re also told that all of the fins are hacked from the body and sold -  the dorsal, pectoral and caudal fins - and this is reflected in the different sizes of fins we see on Des Voeux Road.

As well as differing sizes, there are different ‘qualities’ of fin. The fins drying on the side of the road, are the ‘cheap cuts’, a boney, frail looking fin, showing lines of cartilage. There are also ghost-like pale fins with frayed edges, these are the most common, and are the types of dried fin that you see bundled together in the plastic bags. On a side street we also saw ‘grey’ fins, a type of fin that has not yet been skinned.

Shark fin is a billion dollar juggernaut trade. Fins are cut from sharks using a hot knife, the remaining body, providing significantly less value for the fisherman, is thrown back into the sea, destined for death by suffocation; the fin is dried and sold. The fin is primarily used to make shark fin soup, a tasteless broth-like dish, normally served at important business banquets and weddings as a show of status. This practice has existed for hundreds of years but has boomed in popularity in the past two centuries. Fins mean money for the fishermen, and for restaurants alike, (we saw this dish selling in multiple restaurants the Sai Yung Pun area for up to 1000 HKD; about £96 at time of writing).

When we turn the next street corner, surprisingly, we’re confronted with a glimmer of resistance, an expression of revolt against the trade of tonnes of shark fin being sold on Des Voeux Road. A giant whale shark mural adorns a large wall. Dripping blue and grey paints line the whale shark on the cracked concrete wall with the words ‘finished with fins’ disappearing beneath the Hong Kong dust and grime.

Our guide to the area, a campaigner from the Hong Kong Shark Foundation is unhesitant in making his hopes for the future of the shark fin industry clear - a total end to the brutal fishing for shark and their fins. He recognises that what is needed is a reduction focused effort to change the heavily entrenched cultural normality of this dish. And whilst I agree, I was left concerned and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of fin for sale that I witnessed on a single morning and one a single road in Hong Kong.


Campaigners are speaking out against shark fin in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Shark Foundation work to raise awareness about the environmental consequences of species loss due to finning and look for ways to encourage the reduction of consumption, particularly focussed on Hong Kong. Sea Shepherd also work on the ground to monitor and take action against the industry, to raise awareness by giving public speeches, school visits and hosting stalls, all with the aim of changing the accepted nature of this tasteless and cruel ‘delicacy’ and to provide a future of freedom for all shark species.

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