Guests at the Hilton hoping to order shark fin soup will have to take their business elsewhere: The hospitality giant recently announced a ban on the controversial delicacy in its restaurants and facilities worldwide – including the 96 properties it owns and manages in the Asia Pacific – by this April.
The company took shark fin off its menus in all restaurants and food and beverage facilities in China and Southeast Asia in December 2012, but continued to serve it upon request. Starting in September 2013, Hilton banned shark fin in its Southeast Asian properties, declining orders for the contentious ingredient, and implemented the same policy in its Greater Chinese facilities in February.
The final stage of the ban takes effect in Japan on April 1, although Hilton had stopped accepting banquet orders for shark fin dishes in Japan in Dec. 1, 2013.
“We made a decisive commitment to influence consumer demand and ensure operational compliance across our portfolio of hotels by taking a measured country-by-country approach,” said Martin Rinck, president of Hilton Worldwide’s Asia Pacific region, in a statement. “In placing a global ban on shark fin, we take action in support of environmental conservation efforts worldwide and progress our efforts in responsible business operations.”
Chinese culture prizes shark fin soup as luxury dish served at special occasions like weddings and banquets. Because China’s recent economic prosperity has made the expensive ingredient more affordable for the average Chinese citizen, demand for shark fin dishes has increased over the past decade – at the expense of sharks, a particularly vulnerable population to overfishing since they cannot breed as quickly as other fish. In fact, the Chinese’s voracious appetite for shark fin has been called out as one of the leading contributors to the decline in global shark populations.
The method of collecting shark fins is also particularly gruesome and wasteful: Fishermen cut off the shark’s fins and then throw the body back in the ocean, where the shark bleeds out and dies.
Environmental campaigns including basketball star Yao Ming’s public opposition to shark fin are helping to slowly turn the cultural tide against the divisive delicacy, and many countries and even U.S. states have banned shark finning practices or shark fin food products. Despite these successes, we are a long way from fully protecting sharks and rebuilding their depleted populations, which is why policies prohibiting shark fin dishes from hospitality companies like Hilton that are asked to serve the eco-unfriendly ingredient at special events are another crucial piece in the puzzle to the solution of shark conservation.
“Hilton Worldwide’s ban on shark fin will go a long way…towards protecting valuable shark species, which are in turn crucial for maintaining the health of our marine ecosystem,” said Elaine Tan, CEO of World Wide Fund for Nature – Singapore, in a statement. “Hilton Worldwide’s measured and step-wise approach towards responsible sourcing is a fine example of how businesses with strong leadership can, and should, take responsibility for their impact on the environment.”
The McLean, Va.-based company, which owns and manages 645 hotels worldwide, said the ban on shark fin is part of Hilton’s ongoing efforts to develop a sustainable sourcing policy – including sourcing of sustainable seafood – set to be released in the future.
Image credit: (c) 2014 Hilton Worldwide
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru