Phuket hotels say no to shark fin soup

Posted on: July 24th, 2013 by Hannah Darrin

PHUKET: More than 30 hotels from around Phuket joined a Fin Free Campaign – aimed at removing shark fin soup from all hotel and restaurant menus on the island – on July 5 at the Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort.

Although far from a significant percentage of hotels on the island, it is Steve Galster’s, Director of Freeland, hope that this may lead to further Phuket hotels and restaurants presenting a united front about their opposition to shark fin soup. The 30 or so hotels present at the event do not offer shark fin on their menu, and it is hoped that their stance will encourage those hotels that do offer it, to stop.

“We started in February with just three hotels and up till today we had 30 hotels signed up, mainly in the Bangkok area. But we’ve already doubled the number of hotels on-board by our event in Phuket today.”

Although this was wasn’t Mr Galster’s first visit to the island, it was the first that time that Freeland – a Thailand-registered NGO, concerned with preserving and protecting wildlife around the world – had worked with Phuket environmental group SEEK to bring the campaign to Phuket.

“Today is all about keeping the sharks in the ocean, many shark species in Thailand waters are 20 per cent of what they used to be, with some as low as one per cent of what they were 50 years ago.”

During a talk to hotel operatives, and around 50 interested parties on the island, including Governor Maitree Intusut, he explained that shark fishing – or rather the chopping off of their fins and throwing back into the ocean – is a huge problem, ecologically speaking, as it disturbs the natural food chain. It’s also cruel, and to physically consume sharks is dangerous because shark meat contains an incredibly high level of mercury, he believes.

As well as the affect on the much-protected image of Thailand tourism, he also said that it would soon have adverse effects in a monetary sense.

“It affects the diving business in Thailand and Phuket especially, as the dive business is worth around B3 billion a year.”

Gov Maitree echoed Mr Galster’s thoughts when he took to the stage later on in the afternoon.

“Nobody wants to go diving and see a dead shark. Let’s all work together for the next generation to stop shark fin fishing,” he said.

This is not the first time that Freeland has attempted to raise awareness of the cruelty and inhumane treatment of sharks in Thailand, however, Mr Galster is hoping that this time, it will turn out much better.

“We tried this 12 years ago and were actually quite successful, so much in fact that people who were benefiting from the shark fin industry tried to sue us. Eventually though the court threw the case out.”

Mr Galster said that the Thai public perception of wildlife has changed dramatically since then.

“Many did not understand what we were doing and why we were doing it. They didn’t understand why we were trying to save ‘Jaws’.”

Working on educating the younger generation of Thailand on the ills of the shark finning industry should be paramount said Mr Galster. This was one reason that in the afternoon, children from Cherng Talay Wittayakom School took part in various activities and games aimed at raising awareness of the shark fin industry.

The ultimate aim of the campaign, explains founder of SEEK, Sean Panton, is for Phuket to be ‘Fin Free,’ however he admits the island is far from having such status just yet.

“We’re around ten years away from being able to claim that, but when we do, we’ll make sure we advertise and promote that – at the airports, everywhere,” said Mr Panton.

A completely different form of marketing that is currently taking place explains Mr Galster, “Shark fin soup is still being marketed towards the Asian market as part of their Thai holiday. There are therefore many hotels and restaurants in Phuket Town that cater to them.”

Mr Galster added that the problems caused by the illegal trade of wildlife in Thailand did not necessarily stem from a lack of rules and regulations governing the treatment of wildlife.

“The problem is that the punishment for breaking the rules are way too lenient. The maximum fine is $1,200 dollars, so even if somebody is working in trading multi-million dollars worth of elephant tusks, they still will only be fined $1,200 dollars.”

It is for this reason therefore that he would like to work on bringing changes among the people who have the choice as to whether to eat, serve and benefit from it, rather than those charged with enforcing the rules.

– See more at: