I got tipped off. A whistleblower took photos and videos, published them on Facebook, and another internet-user posted it on the Hong Kong Shark Foundation’s website. I managed to get in touch with the person who’d originally posted the images of Facebook, and as soon as I’d found out the address, I headed over straight away. That was New Year’s Day. I went back the next day with a group of colleagues to take a closer look. But I wanted to get the job done quickly in case we got in trouble - it was ‘get in, get out’.
The rooftop is right next to the port. The company using it has the legal right to, but it has to remain open to the building’s inhabitants as a fire escape. That’s how I was able to get up there so easily.
Drying the fins isn’t illegal in Hong Kong, but the company has built illegal structures on the rooftop to do it. You can’t just build whatever you like on rooftops, the drying structures weren’t in the original building plans [Editor’s note: building regulations are strict in Hong Kong, which faces chronic housing shortages]. On the rooftop, I saw a sign tacked to the door by the government’s Building Department demanding the company dismantle the illegal structures within six weeks. The sign was dated August 28th 2012.
So the government is concerned about the illegal structures, but it’s ignoring the shark fin carnage going on up there. A colleague of mine called the Food and Environmental Health Department, and they told him they couldn’t do anything about the shark fins because it’s a private building.
Photographs of various building structures taken by Alex Hofford (January 2)
Sharks are getting wiped out on a stupendous, insane scale. It’s going on daily. These photos show what’s happening in Hong Kong, but the same thing is happening all over mainland China and Taiwan. Finding where it’s happening in China is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
But in Hong Kong, this sleazy stuff doesn’t look good. The tourism department is really trying to entice foreign visitors, and this is an embarrassment - it’s not good for Hong Kong’s image. It makes it look like a wildlife pariah state. In 18 years of living here, I’ve never seen shark fins drying on rooftops in Hong Kong. Maybe it’s happening more, and it’s just better hidden.
"Shark fins are like a currency"
The fishing boats catch the sharks using long lines with bait attached in intervals of every 20 metres or so. They’re targeting tuna, ostensibly, but they’re killing sharks because it’s more lucrative. Shark fins are like a currency.
Photograph of a sack on the rooftop filled with shark fins, taken by Alex Hofford (January 2)
I found a sack of fins labelled ‘origin: Brazil’ on the rooftop, but usually it’s impossible to know where the fins are from. The sharks could have been caught from all around the world. The fishing industry is one of the world’s most opaque industries, which makes it difficult to trace what’s going on.
Those of us against shark finning know that demanding an outright ban on sale and possession in China is a big ask, it’s a tall order. So we’ve got a petition
asking the Hong Kong authorities to stop serving them at banquets and events, at least it’s a start. It’s the thin edge of the wedge.