Shark Savers

Shark Savers

Sharks are synonymous with fear. What most people don’t understand is how important they are to the balance of life in our oceans. The tradition of eating shark fin is playing havoc with our ecosystem, and one local organization is working hard to save these precious creatures.
Shark finning is a brutal practice, yet its sale, trade and distribution have flourished over the years. In Asia, the demand for prestigious “shark fin soups” and for shark fin traditional remedies are growing, and according to Shark Savers, finning is responsible for the death of more than 70 million sharks every year, and at this rate, within 10 to 20 years – the whole shark population will be eradicated.

A few years ago, the NGO “Macau Green Student Union” tried to push the campaign of ending the use of shark fins, they tried to collect signatures in the hope of abolishing shark fins and used very disturbing and bloody images to try to shock the Macau population into thinking twice about eating shark fins. The feedback from this wasn’t too positive, hence; when the opportunity of collaborating with Shark Savers came along, they didn’t hesitate to join. Shark Savers was founded in 2007 and has more than 25,000 members from 99 nations that share the same goal.

The Shark Savers campaign is not about shocking citizens, but rather about using more optimistic tactics, such as portraying sharks as friendly, loving, sea creatures. They want to make the population understand that sharks are one of the core elements in the cycle of nature, if they are killed off then our whole ocean life might not be able to sustain itself. Sharks are vital creatures, protecting our whole eco-system. They want people to love sharks, not to think of them as scary sea creatures.

Shark Savers representative, Joe Chan, explains, “On December 8th, 2013 ‘International Hug Day’ turned into ‘Shark Hug DayDSC_1304_(853x1280)’, some of our volunteers dressed up as sharks, and walked around Macau hugging people. It was a funny scene, having six people dressed up as sharks bouncing around Macau hugging people- this was to try to make people not be scared of sharks, to make them feel connected to sharks, and hopefully to sign our petition to ban shark fins”. Their target from December 8th onwards was to gather 10,000 signatures in the hopes of banning the consumption of shark fins. Right now, they have around 2,000 signatures.
They hope that in March they can establish a Shark Savers NGO Branch in Macau that will further enhance these types of activities in the territory.

“We hope that we can get our close friends and relatives involved. We are also thinking of approaching TDM and/or other media outlets to see whether we can release some short clips regarding this campaign, how about sharks are vital to our community, how they are better in the sea than in our stomachs”.

Fighting tradition
In the words of Joe Chan: Our aims are to carry out more local activities, or campaigns and perhaps even to have long term goals with casinos or restaurants. It is hard to break the habit of eating shark fin in Asia because it is so deeply embedded into our tradition, especially amongst the elderly. We are using all our efforts to try to change the perspective of shark fins in Macau, but there are two very important obstacles: firstly, the elderly tradition.

“Maybe it is too difficult to try to stop this generation from stopping to eat shark fin, but perhaps with enough education and persistence, we can target the next generation to stop eating shark fin”.

“Secondly, 63% of our tourism comes from Mainland China, and what they want to eat is shark fins. They are the big customers, and even if restaurant owners themselves disagree with the ethics of shark fins, they cannot displease these tourists”.

“Perhaps when they come to Macau, they should also try to experience another culture, we are not trying to make the restaurants go out of business, but we can try to introduce other methods of replacing shark fins, such as vegetarian methods”.

The right to choose
“Just like hair seaweed, all of the fat choy we eat nowadays are synthetic- this is because there is rules in place that one cannot sell or buy real fat choy. Today, in any store you go, all the fat choy you eat is
synthetic and everyone is still happy”.

“As long as you can provide this option to customers, as long as the dishes still incorporate ‘shark fin’, whether real or synthetic, the customer can still be happy. Perhaps sometimes in traditional banquets, it is important to have shark fin as a plate, but why not have synthetic shark fin instead? Our goal is to try to talk to restaurants and encourage them to provide these options to customers, so customers can at least choose. Right now, there are no options”.

“Gradually, we hope that we can slowly incorporate these changes in Macau, even if we are only able to affect 1% of the casinos and restaurants”.

“Every year, shark numbers are decreasing substantially. One positive thing is that the international trading of shark fins has decreased. Right now – all we see is decrease, and increasing prices. If the demand for shark fins slows down, hopefully the eco-system will regain its balance”.