Four Chinese airlines have halted the shipment of shark fins, joining a growing list of companies worldwide committed to the ban.

The ban began on Monday at four airlines under China Eastern Group: China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, China Cargo Airlines and China United Airlines.

China Eastern Airlines
China Eastern Airlines. File Photo: Wikicommons.

Eastern Logistics Air, a sister company in charge of all air cargo services for the business group, said the policy change was made in response to calls for “global sustainable development and protection of marine ecosystems.” It also aims to protect sharks from extinction.

The announcement came months after China Southern Airlines and Air China implemented the ban. Except for Hainan Airlines and its subsidiary Hong Kong Airlines, nearly the entire Chinese aviation industry has now banned shark fin shipments, said Alex Hofford of NGO WildAid.

Welcoming China Eastern’s decision, Hofford told HKFP: “China now leads the world on environmental protection since the United States went into reverse gear in January under President Donald Trump.”

He added that there is evidently a growing acceptance among airlines and shipping companies towards banning shark fins.

Illegal sources

Environmentalists advocate a total ban on shark fin shipments on the basis that shark fins from a species that is legally allowed to be exported look very similar to those from illegal sources.

shark fins
Shark fins. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

“In general, all shark fins are grey and triangular. It is extremely difficult, time-consuming and expensive for their cargo acceptance staff to tell the difference between a legal fin and an illegal fin,” Hofford said.

Package delivery company UPS said in 2015 that it decided to deny all shark fin shipments because law enforcement agents may not be able to identify the species.

Hofford urged US companies such as FedEx, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines to follow suit: “[I]f nearly the entire Chinese aviation sector can ban shark fin, why can’t FedEx?”

See also: FedEx slammed for ‘lack of sincerity’ in banning shark fin shipments

There are now 42 airlines – including local carriers HK Express, Cathay Pacific and Dragonair – and 17 container shipping companies worldwide committed to the ban, WildAid said.

The NGO has taken aim at Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong’s restaurant sector, starting with the city’s biggest restaurant group Maxim’s. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition urging Maxim’s to stop selling shark fin soup.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.