Hong Kong recently seized 28 tons of illegally smuggled, a new record for the world's largest shark fin trade region. According to customs officials, the haul is worth more than $1.1 million.
Each container found by officials held 13 metric tons of dried shark fins, officials said Wednesday. The fins are worth about $8.6 million HKD, or about $1.1 million USD.
According to the news agency AFP, the fins were taken from about 38,500 sharks, mostly thresher and silky sharks, which are both endangered. The unprecedented bust came after officials discovered two suspicious containers from Ecuador that arrived in late April and earlier this month.
Following an investigation, customs officers arrested a 57-year-old male suspect, who has since been released on bail. Investigations of both shipping containers are ongoing.
The haul far exceeded previous findings; officials said a 4.2-ton stark fin bust in 2019 held the record until now.
Selling and consuming shark fins is not against the law in Hong Kong, but the trade does require a license. The city is a major trafficking route for wildlife smugglers and is the world's largest shark fin trade center, according to the Hong Kong Shark Foundation.
A person found guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without a license can face 10 years in prison and a fine of $10 million HKD, or about $1.3 million USD, under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance.
According to Humane Society International, shark finning involves cutting off a shark's fin, often while it is still alive, before dumping the animal back into the ocean to die from blood loss, suffocation or predation. 72 million sharks are killed annually for shark fin soup alone — considered a festive delicacy in many regions and served at wedding banquets.
While younger generations are less likely to consume shark fins, the tradition remains popular among older generations and is representative of wealth. "There is still strong cultural value placed on consuming shark fin, particularly at weddings, business events and family gatherings like the upcoming Mother's Day," senior conservation officer Gloria Lai Pui-yin told AFP.
The global trade of wildlife has come under particular scrutiny during the coronavirus pandemic, which many experts believe in a live animal market in Wuhan, China. While the country said it would crack down on the types of animals that could be , it's unclear how effective its policies have been, as some markets have begun reopening.