Maxim’s Caterers said on Thursday that they will continue to sell shark fin related products “upon request” at their Hong Kong restaurants, despite calls from activists to stop the sale of the threatened species.

The statement comes after NGO WildAid accused the catering company of selling shark fin dishes on secret menus. Animal activists also took aim at coffee company Starbucks – owned by Maxim’s Caterers – over its relationship with its licencee.

shark fin
Photo: Wikicommons.

Shark fin is a popular item on banquet menus in Hong Kong, particularly during weddings or Chinese New Year. But high demand has threatened a quarter of the species with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

‘Phased out’

In a statement on Wednesday, Maxim’s told HKFP: “[W]e have already phased out shark fin dishes from our a la carte menus in 2017. At the same time, we respect our customers’ needs and preferences, so shark fin related products are only provided upon request.”

Maxim shark fin menu
A shark fin menu at Maxim’s Palace restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Photo: WildAid.

The catering company said that they are committed to providing shark-free alternatives, and have designated four of their Chinese restaurants “shark-free,” including two M&C. Duck branches, Cha Cha Room and The Pond.

Maxim’s also claimed it only uses shark fins from Blue Sharks – a ‘Lower Risk-Near Threatened’ species.

shark fin wildaid maxim protest
Photo: Dan Garrett.

“We have stringent sourcing process, and all suppliers must provide legal shark fin import documentations that met regulatory requirements. We are also the first Chinese chain restaurant to proactively conduct independent DNA testing on shark fin to ensure that the supply is from the lower risk species…,” they said.

In a letter addressed to Starbucks last month, activist Alex Hofford urged Starbucks to reassess its relationship with its licence holder, stating: “Despite our best efforts to convince their management otherwise, Maxim’s continue to engage in cruel, barbaric, unsustainable and often criminal shark fin trade.”

In response to Maxim’s reply on Thursday, he told HKFP: “We are concerned that Maxim’s are confusing ‘legal’ and ‘sustainable’. We defy Maxim’s to provide to the public any certificates or other documentation that can prove that the blue sharks they are selling are from sustainable sources.”

Meanwhile, NGO WWF Hong Kong said: “Hong Kong is accounting for about 40% of global shark fin trade.” It urged restaurants to stop serving shark fin, adding that the city has “a unique and critical role to play in conserving sharks globally.”

WildAid will be holding a public protest outside Maxim’s headquarters in Lai Chi Kok on Friday.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.