Hong Kong custom officials seized a record 28 tons of shark fin worth over $1 million

Mark Conlin/VW PICS/UIG via Getty ImagesShark fins drying in Mexico in 2019.
  • Customs officials in Hong Kong seized over 28 tons of shark fin this week, sliced off some 38,500 endangered sharks.
  • The haul is the largest the city has ever seen, and more than twice the amount seized in 2019.
  • Officials were suspicious because the containers were labelled in Spanish. Labels are typically only in Chinese or English.
  • The shark fin trade is responsible for killing more than 70 million sharks each year and driving over a quarter of shark species into extinction.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hong Kong customs seized 28 tons of shark fins severed from roughly 38,500 endangered sharks, representing the largest fin smuggling operation in the city.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong customs officials announced they had uncovered two containers filled with 26 metric tons, or more than 57,000 lbs, of the controversial delicacy, worth about $US1.1 million, the South China Morning Post reported.

Some 90% of the fins were from thresher and silk sharks, which are both considered protected species, according to the Morning Post. Their value would have been much higher, though, if they had been of better quality.

The containers arrived separately from Equador in January, but their contents were discovered on April 28 and May 4. Customs officers grew suspicious since both had labels in Spanish indicating they were carrying dried fish.

Typically such shipments are only labelled in English or Chinese.

A record capture

The haul is more than double the 13.2 tons of shark fin seized in Hong Kong in 2019, Time magazine reported.

Danny Cheung Kowk-yin, assistant superintendent of the Customs and Excise Department’s marine enforcement group, told the Morning Post that both crates were sent by the same firm to a Hong Kong logistics company.

The 57-year-old owner of that company has been arrested and is free on bail during the investigation.

Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, he could face up of 10 years in prison and a fine of nearly $US1.3 million. Cheung told the Morning Post the investigation was ongoing and more people could be arrested.

Merchants cut shark fins at a fish market in Dubai in 2012.AP Photo/Kamran JebreiliMerchants cut shark fins at a fish market in Dubai in 2012.

Shark fin is typically eaten as a soup and some believe it has health benefits. Viewed as a status symbol, the dish is often served at weddings.

“The bigger the fin and the thicker the veining, the more expensive it is,” clerks at Hong Kong’s Dried Seaford Market in Sheung Wan told CNN.

The devastating toll on the world’s shark population

Half of the world’s supply of shark fins once passed through Hong Kong, though the government has cracked down on illicit trading. It’s still legal to buy and consume fins but endangered sharks are protected and need to come with a permit. According to Reuters, false labelling on shipments is common.

The shark fin trade is responsible for the deaths of more than 70 million sharks each year, Reuters reported, and has led to the extinction of more than a quarter of shark species.

Yvonne Sadovy, a marine biologist at the University of Hong Kong, told CNN that slicing a fin off a shark is ultimately fatal, since they need them for balancing, steering, and, in some cases, breathing.

“It cannot move, feed or swim, so it just starves to death on the sea bottom,” she said. “Maybe it is like cutting the wings off a flying plane: The plane will be destroyed.”

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.