One of the largest Asian airlines flying into YVR has banned the shipping of unsustainable shark products on its flights.
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has announced it will put the ban into place as soon as possible.
“There is very compelling scientific evidence to support that this is the right thing to do for a company committed to sustainability,” the company, the largest air freight carrier in the world, said in a statement.
“Specifically, due to the vulnerable nature of sharks, their rapidly declining population, and the impacts of overfishing for their parts and products, our carriage of these is inconsistent with our commitment to sustainable development.”
Hong Kong is one of the world’s biggest markets for shark fins, which are used to make soup that is an expensive and traditional item at Chinese banquets.
And many restaurants in Richmond, with its high Asian population, still serve the soup despite pressure from local animal protection groups, while the City of Richmond is currently mulling its own ban.
Environmentalists say the sustainable shark fin industry is tiny and most shark products are harvested in a way that threatens scores of shark species that are deemed vital to the health of the oceans.
Cathay said it had studied the issue for a “very long time” before siding with conservationists who have long been calling for curbs on the shark fin trade.
“The decision had to be based on scientific data — for example, are sharks really endangered?” the airline added.
Cathay said the new policy would take about three months to be put in place as current shippers had to be notified and “appropriate procedures” established.
But no new contracts to carry unsustainably sourced shark products would be entered into, effective immediately.
Marley Daviduk, of the Vancouver Animal Defense League (VADL), labelled the airline’s move a “massive turning point” in the fight to ban the use of shark fin products.
“It’s huge for a Chinese airline to do this,” Daviduk said.
“The most important thing is that they recognized that the shark population is declining and that they’re basing their decisions on what the scientists say.
“I think (Cathay) are a big player in all of this and the people who trade in shark fins are going to be scrambling around to find a way to ship their product.”
However, the labelling of shark fin products is poor and it’s not clear whether the shark fin came from an endangered species.
To avoid confusion, Daviduk said she hopes Cathay’s ban will simply mean all shark fin products.
Last month, Daviduk and members of the VADL approached a Richmond restaurateur who sells shark fin soup, urging him hand over some samples of the shark fin he uses so they could be DNA tested to see if they were threatened or endangered species.
The VADL also lobbied Richmond city council in the spring, requesting it considers banning the sale of shark fin products in the city.
Other Lower Mainland municipalities, such as Maple Ridge and North Vancouver, have already introduced such a ban.