A Shark Fin Promotion Backfires

Citibank has gotten itself into a stew over fish soup — specifically, shark’s fin soup. The soup is considered a delicacy and, because of its priciness, a status symbol in many parts of Asia. But environmentalists have criticized consumption, saying that soaring demand for the fins, mainly from China, has caused a sharp decline in shark populations over the last two decades.
Environmental advocates in Hong Kong say that opposition gathered steam this year amid rising awareness of how many sharks are being killed — 100 million a year — and of how their prized fins are harvested. Usually the fins are cut off a living fish that is then thrown back into the water to die.

Citibank’s Hong Kong branch recently learned about this growing sensitivity. This month it ran a special promotion offering Citibank credit card holders 15 percent off a ‘‘shark’s fin and garoupa’’ dinner at Maxim’s Chinese Cuisine outlets. ‘‘An ample quantity of shark’s fin is given,’’ a July 11 newspaper ad assured readers.
The promotion drew swift condemnation, with a lively discussion group created on Facebook and an e-mail campaign aimed at Citibank’s marketing manager.

Last week, Citibank Hong Kong withdrew the promotion, which was to have run until the end of the month, in response to feedback. ‘‘Citibank is committed to managing our business in a manner that benefits the society and the environment,’’ it said in a statement.

Citibank’s Web site in Singapore still advertises an offer for a 15 percent discount at the Imperial Court Shark’s Fin Restaurant that has also been criticized by participants in the Facebook discussion group. (Despite its name, the restaurant offers plenty of nonshark dishes.) Godwin Chellam, a Citibank spokesman, said on Wednesday that the bank had received no complaints about that promotion, but that the company would monitor the situation.

Still, the episode has highlighted how rapidly public opinion has shifted on the issue, especially in Hong Kong, where much of the world’s trade in the fins takes place.

‘‘A few years ago, there may have been no reaction to Citibank ads promoting shark fin soup,” Michael Skoletsky, executive director at Shark Savers in New York, said in an e-mail message. “Now, Citibank’s fast response shows that companies can’t fall behind an informed public on important environmental problems like shark fin soup.'

Page Source: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com

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