Maxim’s Caterers have pledged to stop selling shark fin products by 2020, after facing mounting pressure from conservation groups. Until that date, customers can continue to order shark fin soup “upon request.”

The restaurant chain – which is the largest in Hong Kong – said in a statement on Thursday: “As market and customer preferences have evolved in Hong Kong, Maxim’s Chinese Cuisine will stop serving shark fin in all restaurants starting from 1 January 2020. Until that point, shark fin dishes will only be provided upon request and to fulfil advanced booking commitments.”

Blue shark. Photo: Paul Hilton/WildAid.

The company added: “We are committed to balancing our ever-evolving customers’ needs and reducing the impact of our business on the environment, and through such balance we will continue to provide a diverse and quality catering service.”

Last year, Maxim’s announced that it was “the first Chinese restaurant chain to completely phase out shark fin dishes from our à la carte menu.” But in June, activists revealed that the chain was continuing to sell shark fin products on under-the-counter “premium” menus, available upon request.

Threatened species

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually, according to NGO WWF. The species are often targeted for their fins to make soup – a popular item on set menus for large banquet gatherings, such as weddings or Chinese New Year. Hong Kong is one of the largest markets in the global shark fin trade; however, the volume of shark fin imported has declined by over 50 per cent over the past 10 years, from 10,210 tonnes in 2007 to 4,979 tonnes, according to the NGO.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, three species of shark are classified as vulnerable and two species are classified as endangered.

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

NGOs Hong Kong Shark Foundation and WildAid said that they welcomed Thursday’s announcement. Alex Hofford, a campaigner for WildAid, said: “As Hong Kong’s largest restaurant chain, Maxim’s commitment will bring much-needed relief to the global problem of overfishing, and especially for blue sharks, the type of shark being served in Maxim’s restaurants in Hong Kong – the world’s shark fin trade hub.”

Hofford, however, expressed concern over Maxim’s continued practice of serving shark fin products “upon request” until 2020: “We therefore encourage Maxim’s to phase out all shark fin from its business operation as soon as possible, certainly before 01 January 2020.”

WildAid launched a campaign in 2016 against Maxim’s sale of shark fin products and have staged regular demonstrations outside of their headquarters in Lai Chi Kok since.

WildAid also urged other catering groups – including Paramount Catering Group, Lei Garden Restaurant Group and Fulum Group – to follow Maxim’s example.

Jennifer Creery

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.