Shark fin restaurateurs sue environmental campaigners

BANGKOK – Shark fin soup restaurants in Bangkok’s Chinatown Friday filed a 103 million baht (2.3 million dollar) law suit against conservation group WildAid over its high-profile campaign against the costly dish.

The group of 15 restaurateurs said their trade had dropped by up to 50 per cent since the activists launched an advertising campaign two months ago claiming that shark fins contain poisonous mercury.

“The campaign has not only spoiled our decades-old reputation but also our sales,” said Chinatown Food Producers Group chairman Adul Laohapol, adding that sales of canned shark fin soup had also fallen.

“The plaintiff has been damaged because overseas supermarkets returned products, fearing the shark fin was laced with mercury as the group claimed,” court papers said.

Adul said the suit also targeted advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, which devised the shock advertisements that included pictures of a bowl of soup with human ears floating on the surface.

“If shark fin traders do not take any action it will cause them billions of baht in damages in the future,” Adul said, adding that any proceeds from the court case would be donated to Thailand’s tourism authority.

WildAid has argued that the trade in shark fins will damage Thailand’s valuable tourism industry by wiping out the species of sharks which scuba divers come from all around the world to see.

It also said that the way the fins are harvested — by slicing the cartilage off the body and dumping the animal in the sea to die — is cruel, and that the dish has no health benefits, as its proponents claim.

WildAid director Steven Galster Friday vowed not to call off the campaign, despite the legal action and “vague threats” from shark fin traders which have prompted him to hire security for the group’s offices.

“WildAid stands behind its campaign to raise public awareness about the realities associated with the trade in sharks fins, and will not back down from legal or other types of threats,” he said.

“We told and showed the public the truth. We remain committed to working cooperatively with shark fin merchants in order to find a solution that benefits sharks, the oceans, and Thailand.”

Galster said the campaign had been stepped up after initial efforts to engage the support of shark fin merchants were rejected, with the traders dismissing WildAid’s action as “toothless”.

“We are happy about our progress, but still desire a cooperative approach with shark fin merchants on how to resolve this problem,” he said.

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