Victory Over Disney Reflections
by Brian Darvell, of the Hong Kong Marine Conservation Society
(Prof. Darvell is one of the leading defenders of sharks and marine wildlife in Hong Kong and he was instrumental in convincing the Disney Corporation to agree to not serve shark fin soup. As he points out in this report, the struggle to ban shark fin soup continues on other fronts in Hong Kong.)
We have had time for some reflection on Disney's decision to drop SFS from their wedding banquet menu, but while we are pleased at heir change of heart we should not feel that their position is not without some wriggling. From
"Don Robinson, Hong Kong Disneyland's group managing director, said in a statement that the company's latest decision was "consistent with our ongoing commitment to conservation and responsible consumption practices."
"Striking the right balance between cultural sensitivities and conservation has always been our goal," he said."
The irony seems to have been lost on him. They swore blind that having it on the menu was also consistent. And there was precious little evidence that "balance" was an issue they took seriously, since they claimed it was respect for culture that forced their hand in the first place. All the intelligence I have received suggests that Disney are control freaks, and that it really irks that they could not contain this skirmish.
We shall just have to keep a close eye on them in case of any backsliding. Can we trust them?
By the way, this is the same Don Robinson who now claims he knows more about shark fin than most people. In just one day he personally received 3000 emails from protestors, and this crashed his email system. Well done, guys - nothing like a democratic education.
As mentioned, and well taken up by Eric Bohm at WWF HK, hotels in HK are now being approached for a constructive response to the situation. However, according to the SCMP (2005-06-30):
"Therese Necio-Ortega, director of communications at the JW Marriott in Hong Kong, said her hotel was looking at ways of encouraging people not to choose shark's fin, but said imposing an immediate ban on it would be impractical."
Does that ring a bell?
"We would have to explain to stakeholders why the [hotel's] revenue is going to be $100,000 less for the month," she said. "If we don't serve shark's fin, then the owners are going to say, 'Where can you recoup that $100,000?' Beyond that, what would happen to the shark's-fin trader? There must be alternative options before we just say, 'No, let's not serve it.' There must be positive solutions. We can't just leave some groups hanging. It is not fair."
- which is where we started: profit. We have to ask whether the owners are happy with their complicity in the destruction of whole ecosystems for the sake of their money-grubbing? Will "stakeholders" be equally comfortable in making money out of a trade that is often criminal, certainly wasteful, and contradictory to any sense of balance and sustainability - as Disney have at last accepted? If you hold shares in such organizations knowingly, you share the blame. Impractical? Yes, it is not without pain that profit is given up for some minor conservationist issue.
This is not a matter of fairness (read: somebody else making a profit that we have foregone!), it is a matter of taking a bold initiative, leading the way, demonstrating responsibility and a functioning conscience. Don't let greed for short term gain be the reason for long-term loss - for us all.
Just in case there is any doubt, there seem to be bigger issues than just sharks at stake: we are talking about the total collapse of reef ecosystems as real possibility. Recent studies are shoing that the removal of top predators has knock-on effects that we cannot calculate. Since the reefs provide a great deal of other food, as well as being part of even bigger systems, the prospects are indeed dire if "face" and ostentatious expenditure is allowed to continue to drive this destruction.
See also "A cautionary tale for whalers" at the end of
As Suzanne Gendron said: "We need sharks."
What is amazing is the number of people who have responded to this story by saying something like, "Where's the problem - sharks kill people, so it's alright to exterminate them, isn't it?" How sad. We have to work very hard to dispel the notion that we have any right to think like this. Going into a predator's domain has risks - very, very small as it happens in this case, compared with something like crossing the road or lightning strike. We are obliged to recognize those risks, not assume licence to drive species to extinction. Buffalo in Africa kill more people than do lions, but there are no calls to have them deleted from life's inventory.
This continued for some time, gratifyingly, including a very interesting place:
We have sensitized the media to the issue, and we can all take advantage of this. Strike while the iron is hot. Let's see sparks! Speaking of which, here's a bright one...
Readers of the Guardian and others were treated to a routine, but predictably ignorant response by "celebrity" chef Ken Hom:
I wrote to the Guardian as follows:
I think Ken Hom has missed the point entirely (The Guardian, 29th June). He accuses those who address a conservation issue of hypocrisy because there are many other problems that cry out for action that he perceives is not taken.
It is true that caviar, cod, swordfish, and many others, are of great concern and that drastic action needs to be taken to rectify the problems. We are all responsible for this, whether or not we personally eat such things (and I do not). However, one step at a time. I saw this as a winnable battle that would establish a precedent, set an example, and both make a contribution to an overall view of the way in which we should manage our dwindling resources and show that it can be done.
The mere fact that other problems exist does not mean we should not try to fix individual issues. It also clearly does not mean that consumption of endangered species is justified by the fact that governments and individuals lack a sense of stewardship and responsibility. It certainly does not mean that we are hypocritical for making a visible effort on one point at a time.
This is part of an educational process, and Mr. Hom, with his vast following, is in a strong position to contribute to it. So, will you come out and say it, Ken? Do not eat Shark Fin Soup.
The Guardian did not see fit to print this, at least, it does not appear on their website. However, I think the chances of Mr. Hom retracting his view are slight. Do a search for "Ken Hom" +shark +fin on Google and you get plenty of hits. There is a vested interest:
A sumptuous main meal, on New Years Eve, usually begins in the late afternoon. There are lavish servings of vegetables, chicken, fish and seafood with every imaginable traditional condiment and delicacy. Wealthy families even serve sea cucumbers, shark's fin and giant pork meatballs called "lions heads".
- including book sales: http://www.tenspeedpress.com/catalog/all/item.php3?id=546
There are tied restaurants as well: http://www.yellowrivercafes.co.uk/
Could anybody ascertain whether they serve shark fin soup in these establishments? If you can, ask the management to cease and desist in the name of survival. If not, a sticker on their windows would advertise their support for wanton death and destruction.
An email address for Ken Hom himself would allow me to talk to him, if this can be found. Any knowledge out there?
I wonder where Martin Yan stands on this? According to
"he certainly doesn't devour abalone, shark's fin or bird's nest every day"
- which means he does some days. I think we could ask Martin for a similar declaration: do you have the guts, Mr. Yan? Can you come out and say it? Do not eat Shark Fin Soup.
If Disney can recant, so can Yan.
(An email address for Mr. Yan would also be useful, if anyone can oblige.)
The Friends of Hoi Ha have written to Dr Sarah Liao, Secretary for Environment, Transport & Works, asking whether the HKSAR government can agree not to serve SFS at its official functions.
"Therefore, we are calling upon the Hong Kong Government to follow the lead of Singapore and make a public statement that Sharks' Fin Soup will no longer be served at any Government banquets. The taking of this measure would enhance the Government's environmental credentials ..."
Dr Liao's official c.v. ( http://www.info.gov.hk/info/cv_setw_e.htm ) says:
As SETW, Dr Liao is responsible for setting government policies in :
- environmental protection and conservation
first and foremost, so she has prime position for prompting the government to follow its own stated principles of sustainability and stewardship. I wonder if she has the strength of character? We can politely encourage her in this: <email@example.com>
Hall Of Fame - Retraction!
You may recall that I was pleased to add a member to the Hall of Fame, the Mandalay Resort & Casino. Sadly, I have to retract that induction - Hall of Shame it is:
I had been told, firstly:
June 17, 2005
Sorry for the delay, I just wanted to be thorough in finding out the
correct information for you. I did not recall ever having heard that we
served anything like this, but just wanted to be sure. Scott Voeller,
Vice President of Marketing, spoke to Tony Angotti, President of Food &
Beverage and we do not serve Shark Fin soup on any menu at any
restaurant. I hope this information will enable to help you out with
your work. We wish you only the best.
Hotel Operations Manager
Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
Kyle Johnson forwarded to me your e-mail correspondence. The statement you request from Mandalay Bay is below. Thank you for contacting us.
As home to Shark Reef - the only facility in the state of Nevada to be accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium - Mandalay Bay Resort demonstrates a serious commitment to the conservation of our planets ocean resources. In the five years since Shark Reef opened, five million visitors have passed through the doors of our aquarium facility to see and learn about the wonders of the worlds oceans. As our commitment extends to the whole of our resort, Shark Fin Soup will not appear on a menu at any of our more than 20 different restaurants.
Gordon M. Absher
MGM MIRAGE Public Affairs
(702) 632-7705 fax
They lied. Through their stinking teeth. What an appalling attitude. What utter contempt they have shown. Did they really think think they could escape by showing the most gross dishonesty? You stupid, stupid people. I wrote and asked for an explanation, and (surprise, surprise) - no reply. This is the group that has an American Zoological Association-accredited shark aquarium attached to their money machine. I think the AZA needs to think again. But, it is obvious they (Mandalay) have been caught out because the website for the Shanghai Lilly restaurant no longer shows the offending item in its menu sample! Cheeky gits. However, I have the page captured, and you can view it here: http://web.hku.hk/~hrdubwd/Root/SFS/shanghai_lilly.jsp.htm
I wonder what MGM corporate policy is in this area? Don't do a Disney on me, will you, chaps?
[As always, you are invited and encouraged to relay this Update to anybody you see fit in any form, but source attribution would be appreciated.]