Traders label shark fin bound for Hong Kong as “seafood” or “fish” in order to avoid detection from shipping companies who have banned the product, an NGO has discovered.

After a three-month investigation, Sea Shepherd Global said on Monday that it saw large shipments of shark fin arriving in Sheung Wan in Maersk containers. Maersk was one of the first shipping firms that banned international carriage of the product in 2010.

Maersk spokesperson Davina Rapaport told HKFP that Maersk discovered cargoes of shark meat mislabelled as “frozen fish” in the past.

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She said the company does not accept the transportation of any shark products at all, citing compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

“We have guidelines in place to guide the staff on screening and handling cargo bookings, to be alert to anything unusual or suspicious,” she added.

Sea Shepherd also said that an air shipment of shark fin on Virgin Australia Cargo and Cathay Pacific, mislabelled as “fish products,” was not identified by Hong Kong Customs. Virgin Australia Cargo then banned the exporter who attempted to ship the products.

Cathay banned the shipment of shark fin on its flights in June, while Virgin has done so since 2011.


Sea Shepherd said that the shipping companies were “victims” of the shark fin trade. The NGO claimed that the companies acted responsibly, but were still unable to detect the product because of the traders’ false declarations.

“Shark fin traders are abusing the system by fraudulently mis-declaring and mis-labeling shark fin under generic categories such as ‘seafood,’ ‘dried seafood,’ ‘dried goods’ or ‘dried marine products’ to avoid detection,” it said.

shark fins
File photo: Wikicommons.

The NGO added that it was working together with Maersk, Cathay and Virgin in order to close the loophole. “A full review is being undertaken of their booking procedures and alert mechanisms to help them enforce their bans,” said Southeast Asia director Gary Stokes.

Shark fin soup is traditionally considered a delicacy served at banquets in China. Its increased consumption over the past decades has endangered many species of shark around the world.

Likewise, Cathay spokesperson Fanny Chan said that the company conducts documentation checks and physical inspections of shipped cargo, and works with Hong Kong Customs and Sea Shepherd to close shipping loopholes.

“We keep records of all shipping requests,” she told HKFP, “including those that we have rejected for carriage as a result of mis-declaration.”

shark fin soup
File photo: Hong Kong Shark Foundation.

Pre-shipment documentation

In response to the discovery of mislabelled shark products, Sea Shepherd and NGO WildAid called on Hong Kong Customs to ask for documentation on shipments before they are transported to Hong Kong, rather than after they arrive.

“With the availability of pre-shipment information, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department will be able to carry out more effective risk-profiling and hence more targeted enforcement work,” said Sea Shepherd.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.