Shark Savers started out with a group of volunteers in Singapore who’re on a mission to reduce the shark slaughtering industry. And at first, nobody thought it would work.
But since its debut in the Lion City in April 2012, the movement of black-and-white celebrity portraits with the tagline “I am FINished with Fins” has spread to Malaysia, Taiwan, and, as of this month – and one of the largest pushes as of yet -- Hong Kong.
“People were asking me whether the black and white photography were photos for funerals,” joked director of Shark Savers Asia Pacific Jonn Lu. “They said ‘you can’t make celebrities cover their faces, and now you're obscuring it? You’re insane.’”
Yet, it has worked.
In Hong Kong, the grass root campaign is set to debut out-of-home pushes with the black-and-white portraits featuring local celebrities, roadshows in malls, screening of shark-related documentaries in cinemas, public concerts, gala dinners, parades, as well as collaborations with contemporary artist Simon Birch and big labels like LUSH.
On the digital front are a microsite and, soon, an Android app that will let supporters make an online pledge with their own black-and-white portraits.
All this is to pat consumers in the back with a message of “It’s okay to say no to shark fins”, said Lu, adding that though Hong Kongers have been disciplined to not actively order the delicacy, they are reluctant to refuse it when offered.
“This is a simple campaign with a simple motion. Through enlisting influencers and engaging personalities, we want to rattle the social landscape … and turn this socially unacceptable act of refusing shark fin into a socially acceptable one.”
Though Sharksavers deny any blatant intention to hurt shark fin retailers' businesses, general secretary of the Hong Kong Marine Products Association Charlie Lim said these initiatives boasts “really exaggerated numbers” and are out to “get small businesses without large PR teams.”
“Of course it affects our business: they don’t have real supporting evidence that sharks are endangered,” he said. “Shark fins are not an illegal trade; yes, there are people out there who are inhumane in terms of their fishing methods, but not everyone is like that.”
“The media and influencers make up stuff and blow up the situation to the way that it is now. Shark-saving bodies need to get funds, so it's no wonder that they need to degrade the industry and fisheries as much as possible to reap in money. But realistically, these organisations don’t have a lot of supporting evidence”
Lim added that the association is back in talks with Cathay Pacific, which stopped serving and shipping shark fins, to reconsider the ban.
“Last year, we reflected to Cathay Pacific in the need to reinvestigate their ban,” he said. “They only listened to one side and didn’t talk to the industry regarding this issue. So we're trying to get that changed”
While we’re not going to start counting fish in the sea to see who is right, the corporate world seems to have sided with SharkSavers: as of July, six airlines have enlisted in this ban: Cathay Pacific, Dragon Air, Korean Air, Asiana, and Fiji Airways.