Shark fin ban toothless, say restaurateurs

BANGKOK – A campaign to ban shark fin soup has had very little influence on consumers of the popular dish, according to restaurant operators.

Two of the three major shark fin soup restaurants in the Bangkok area said the campaign has had no effect on their income, while one restaurant at a fivestar hotel said that only a few customers had declined to eat the soup, citing the

“Some of the guests just said no. They said they had heard of the campaign and wanted to be part of it” said a chef from China Town Restaurant at the Dusit Thani Hotel who asked not to be named.

However, the chef said the number of people eating the soup has not gone down significantly. The main consumers are Japanese who have yet to respond to the campaign: “They (Japanese) might not have heard about it” she said.

WildAid, an international conservation group last Thursday launched its latest study on the global shark finning crisis, including statistics in Thai seas. Every year, the study said, 100 million sharks are finned worldwide, mostly to supply restaurants for shark fin soup.

WildAid is canvassing the Thai consumer to stop eating shark fin soup in order to halt demand for shark finning and call on the government to conduct a master plan for a sustainable shark fishery.

At Hoochalarm Scalar, an established shark fin soup restaurant in the Siam Centre area, with 20 years in the business, the number of customers has gone down slightly. But that is due to the economic   recession, not the campaign,

“The campaign is not an issue for our customers. They love the soup” he said.

Somchai said his customer number is currently at 300 per day. Almost all are politicians, actors or businessmen. The dish is served at a price of Bt800 to Bt5,000, depending on the shark fin’s grade (or   size), he added.

Particularly defiant in the face of the campaign is a popular Japanese food franchise, Oishi Restaurant. Oishi has just launched three shark fin dishes as the featured ‚Äòfood of the month’ on Thursdays and Fridays at all its six branches in Bangkok.

“The promotion has increased our reservation bookings by 20 per cent” said Phitchaya Wichanond of the restaurant’s call centre.

A shark fin enthusiast who asked not to be named said she had heard something about the campaign but has not changed her mind about eating the soup. “All kinds of meat we eat come from killing” she said. “What’s the difference?‚Äù

Another shark fin lover said there has been some discussion over the shark fin ban among his Chinese family members. Finally, they decided it should be a matter of personal choice whether or not to eat the soup, he said.

“But people my age do not love eating the soup so much, maybe because we know more about the cruelty that’s required to get the fin” he said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs will today bring up the issue for discussion, seeking to push for a master plan for a sustainable shark fishery in Thai waters.

The committee is one of three senate committees that have expressed interest in the shark crisis campaign. Another two are the committees on Environment and Tourism.

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