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Sales of shark's fin are down sharply along with wholesale prices as more Singaporeans say no to the traditional delicacy.
Estimates indicate that between 2011 and last year, domestic sales of shark's fin to hotels and restaurants fell by nearly a third to about 5,000kg.
In addition, wholesale prices have fallen in the past year, by 30 to 50 per cent. Currently, a blue shark's processed fin commands about $150 to $200 per kilogram; the unprocessed equivalent costs between $40 and $60.
The figures were provided by Mr Yio Jin Xian, a representative of the Marine and Land Products Association and the general manager of shark's fin supplier Chin Guan Hong.
"Sales started to slow down last year," he told The Straits Times. "Some hotels have stopped buying. For those that are still serving, and restaurants, sales figures have more or less remained stable."
Conservation concerns are the key reason for the drop in demand, with several hotels striking shark's fin soup off their menus.
At least three hotels – Regent Singapore, Hilton Singapore and Swissotel Merchant Court – have stopped serving the dish since last year, joining some 11 others that had already done so. Other hotels, such as the Singapore Marriott, will be rolling out a fin-free a la carte menu by year end.
Said Grand Hyatt executive chef Lucas Glanville, whose hotel removed it from the menu in March last year and serves it only on request: "We're not comfortable with the way that shark's fin is produced. The industry needs to demonstrate to us that they have a sustainable option.
"Even five years ago, people would laugh if you said you wanted to remove shark's fin from the menu. Now, the hotel receives only minimal requests." He added that this marked a "paradigm shift" among customers.
Mr Rainer Tenius, the general manager of Swissotel Merchant Court, which stopped serving the dish in July last year, said this "growing awareness of sustainable development" is especially evident in "young couples".
At The Sentosa, where only 1 per cent of wedding banquets served shark's fin soup last year, general manager Ian Ekers said some couples even include a note to inform their guests that shark's fin soup will not be served "in support of shark conservation".
At Hotel Fort Canning and Singapore Marriott Hotel, where shark's fin is still served, demand for the dish at wedding banquets has dropped by at least 20 per cent, over the past five years and the past year respectively.
Major restaurants such as Jumbo Seafood, TungLok and Paradise Group declined to reveal demand trends. But at Crystal Jade, vice-president of corporate communications and marketing Stella To acknowledged that there has been a "year-to-year... decrease in demand".
Marine conservation groups, including the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, say fishermen typically harvest the fins by hacking them off; the still live animal is then thrown back into the sea.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit organisation, estimates that up to 73 million sharks are killed a year to support the global shark's fin industry.
Other experts such as Dr Giam Choo Hoo, a member of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, have argued that banning shark's fin will not reduce worldwide killing of sharks.
Speaking at a forum organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies last year, Dr Giam and other experts pointed out that countries such as Germany and Iceland have also long killed sharks for their meat.
Still, appetites for shark's fin soup are fading around the world as groups such as the World Wildlife Fund launch international campaigns to save the sharks.
In September for instance, Hong Kong, one of the world's largest markets for shark's fin, banned the dish, which has traditionally been seen as a status symbol, at official functions.
Here, a bowl of shark's fin soup can cost anything from $20 to more than $100 at hotel restaurants.
Ms Jody Shen, 29, had a fin-free wedding in September, serving guests a similar broth without shark. Said the marketing and sales executive: "We were concerned about dwindling shark numbers and the cruel harvest methods."
Mr Yio however does not believe that the shark's fin will completely lose its place on the banquet table.
He said: "It is still a profitable business. We just have to show people that fins can be harvested sustainably. Hopefully that will arrest the decline in demand."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on November 4, 2013. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.
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