Paying Lip service
In Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP)a couple of weeks ago, there was an expose on the sale of Humphead Wrasse fish or Napoleon Wrasse, known locally as so mei, in Hong Kong. This fish is one of the world’s most endangered coral reef fish and is a delicacy for affluent Chinese diners. It can have a price tag of up to US$850 per kilo which of course drives sales for those of affluence and pride. Most of the fish is exported from Indonesia both legally and illegally and ends up in Hong Kong, some obviously on Hong Kong tables and a larger proportion then being smuggled on to the mainland.
The expose revealed that fish had been sold in two of Hong Kong’s two top hotel restaurants. One, the one-Michelin-starred Summer Palace restaurant at the Island Shangri-La and the second at the three-Michelin-starred Tang Court, in Tsim Sha Tsui’s Langham Hotel. In addition, researchers for the article reported that out of 50 Hong Kong hotels and restaurants contacted by contributing researchers to the original article, 31 said they could, with two- or three-days’ notice, provide wild-caught Napoleon wrasse, which, while legal in Hong Kong, are restricted. Every restaurant that offered Napoleon wrasse said the fish were wild-caught, but no possession licenses were to be seen in either the Summer Place or Tang Court when the meals were served and Restaurants in Sai Kung, also admitted to being able to get the fish although they did it ‘quietly’, so they would not be found out.
What was most upsetting, and I quote from Professor Yvonne Sadovy of the University of Hong Kong, whose team researches the illegal live seafood trade, estimated to be worth at least US$1 billion a year, was the role of these hotels. “It is deeply disappointing that a top-class hotel such as the Island Shangri-La has a restaurant selling endangered species, especially given the hotel’s pledge to source sustainably. Its restaurants should be setting an example, not lowering its standards, raising prices and contributing to the extinction risk now faced by this species.” I agree.
And then another quote from Alex Hoxford of WildAid. Hofford said that the Island Shangri-La’s negligence was especially frustrating, “…. after all the exemplary public efforts they have made over the years to ban shark fin from their restaurants and adopt a strict sustainable seafood policy. We hope the Shangri-La Group can learn a lesson from this and better educate their frontline staff on how they should be protecting endangered species, not selling them into extinction”. Again. I can only agree.
Shangri la have led the field in Hong Kong with their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. As mentioned, they stopped the selling of shark’s fin, a massive brazen move. Then, in 2013 they initiated a programme supporting a hunger-relief charity Foodlink, which still collects leftovers from the hotel twice a week to provide food to residents of old-age homes and the underprivileged. Additionally, in 2018, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts announced it had received full Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) seafood Chain of Custody certification (CoC) for all its 53 properties across Mainland China and Hong Kong
So why go against their own principals?? It can only be dollars. But why? In the great scheme of things, from the ‘Wrasse’ escapade they gained small income. Possibly more kudos. Jovy Chan, a senior programme officer at WWF-Hong Kong said, “Since these hotels have sustainability teams and statements, they should play a role in safeguarding our marine resources and ecosystems,” and so they should.
In the West, brands generally use their names to promote sustainability and educate. In Asia, they have the potential to do so but generally make no effort. This is especially so in the case of supermarket chains. Major hotels, generally take a lead, so why do they let themselves down like in this case. It makes no sense! Saying that, CNN recently reported on A seafood company pleaded guilty to passing off 183 tons of foreign crab meat as American blue crab. And making a fortune in the process??
Ok, I’m whinging, so what to do? The Hong Kong Government could act. They could take some oversight action. Is there money laundering involved? It is possible as it is a huge cash business. What about the human health implications? There is no traceability requirement in Hong Kong.
So, can I suggest this, we, the consumer, need to force the change. I’ll elaborate on this later, but the term for this is ‘adaptive management’. It means that we at the ‘coal face’ are more knowledgeable and so know what is needed to make that change. Let’s make that simple first step. Ask the chef, the fish merchant, what the seafood is you buy, and where it comes from. Ask for the proof! Ask for the chain of custody. They should be able to provide that. If not? Then don’t buy it. Simple!
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