THE BLOG
01/29/2013 10:15 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

The Shark Fin Question

One of the things that I love the most about living in Hong Kong is the very unique way that Chinese, Asian and Western cultures mix and co-exist. If you are going to survive and succeed in such a place, you have to be able to move between the different cultures, interpreting and translating from one scenario to the next. Whether you understand or agree is irrelevant -- it is the immersion in the daily interactions, negotiations, businesses and politics that gives you a true understanding and appreciation of life from every angle.

Inevitably in this sort of environment, and as we see globally, the intermingling of cultures, however successful, will always lead to collisions. At the collision we reach our impasse. Some areas in society will function independently of each other indefinitely, others will develop instant altercation and then others will arise and appear over time as a "growing issue" that will debate ever more intensely as the factions develop on either side of the argument. This final situation is where we are with shark fin.

So my cards are officially "on the table," I will have you know that I am wholeheartedly against shark finning. I am not so susceptible to the arguments concerning the cruel way that the trade is executed. I dare say that I do not know enough about global practices in meat and fish production so would quickly render myself a hypocrite in the absence of a rapid turn to veganism in my own life -- something that is not going to happen. My more heartfelt feelings towards the senselessness of the shark fin industry are that I regard it as incredibly dangerous and a careless path to a major and irreversible environmental and ecological disaster. The ramifications of such a disaster will stretch far beyond our oceans, will have serious implications for social stability and be detrimental to future financial and resource security. However, this little essay is not an environmental discussion, so for scientific information you are going to have to read elsewhere. There is plenty of it.

I would really like to be able to brand all those involved in the shark fin industry as a bunch of cruel, barbaric and uneducated despots feeding off the greed of the wealthy and gluttonous in a disgusting display of the parasitic tendencies of human nature. Surely, if this is accepted, we have a simple resolution. It makes perfect sense to immediately ban all practice of the trade and impose significant sanctions and penalties on all those that continue to operate it. Certainly, under the "governed" control of a single foreign power until 1997, it would have been as simple as the swift motion of a pen and the law could have been passed. So why not?

Well this brings me back to the point about issues growing over time. Twenty-five years ago as a young expatriate child, I would have relished the thought of a steaming bowl of shark fin soup, probably at the Shangri-La Hotel. All about me would have praised the prematurely sophisticated palette and socially acceptable decision-making of a well raised young man. Nowadays, where shark fin is still in favor as a foodstuff, nothing will have changed. However, in the majority of situations I would not look sophisticated but like an idiot -- I would certainly not be able to savor my delicacy within the walls of any Shangri-La Hotel. The issue has developed to the point where we are polarized. Depending on your faction you look good being for or against.

I would not like to spend any more time now discussing whether shark fin is right or wrong. I think that it is a waste of time to achieve agreement, as I do not believe that it is essential to resolve to issue. In fact the debate can continue as long as people want, regardless of the existence of the trade in shark fin. People have caused the problem, people are fighting about it and it is only through these same people that we can fix it. "Sharky and George" might be the crime busters of the sea, but add a little "human tenderness" into the equation and unfortunately they have no chance whatsoever.

I want you to think now about the people that work in the shark fin industry. They are fishermen, dockworkers, transport people, sales people, marketing people and business owners. More simplistically I divide these into two groups. There are those who are the employees in the trade and those who are the entrepreneurs in the trade. If I look at the way they must be feeling in the discussion around the shark fin industry, I would say they are probably feeling attacked and backed into a corner. The world has changed its mind about what we have encouraged them to do for decades so now they need to move aside and let progress take its course. At the same time they are being told that if they stop finning sharks, their trade ends. On the other hand, if they continue finning sharks, their trade ends. There is nothing that offers the ability to survive. Fins used to dry in the street. Now, due to pressure the drying is forced underground, or more accurately up in the air. The images of thousands of fins drying on a high rooftop in Kennedy Town (Hong Kong) in the New Year only illustrated this more strongly to me. Is carrying seafood 30 floors up a building for it to dry -- something that can be done completely legally at ground level -- really the actions of a community that does not feel threatened? If you back someone into a corner, humans are after all animals at their origin -- they will revert to instinct. Instinct does not facilitate discussion. A cornered animal attacks.

The majority of the shark fin industry is not well paid. They will not have significant financial reserves and security. At the same time these people are, most likely, the contributing member of a family of husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. They all have responsibilities and they need to be able to support themselves. Other industries in Hong Kong, most notably the construction industry, but also the retail industry, suffer from significant people shortages. The seafood industry itself is not just confined to shark fin by any means. It is not hard to identify the transitional skills, but we must invest in people, incentivizing and motivating them towards transition, out of one industry and into another. The advocacy of this program is essential.

For the entrepreneurs, not only do they have the responsibilities of their employees, they also have assets to return investment on and premises to fund. Shutting down a business is not the simple process of closing the door. The costs involved are significant and can be crippling. Many of these entrepreneurs have successfully run their businesses for many years. They are proven entrepreneurs with a strong business track record. It would be a waste of talent not to work with these entrepreneurs of the Shark Fin community to transition their businesses, re-use their premises in new ways and create new jobs.

If my own company was deemed "unacceptable," I know myself well enough to say that I would be hostile to anyone who was not offering me a solution or an opportunity. Markets change all the time, businesses and industries constantly adapt and change -- reacting to, or predicting, market trends. There is no reason why, regardless of the controversy of shark fin, this cannot also be the case.

In summary I would say thank you to the environmentalists and the ecologists for raising the issue to public awareness. The work in ensuring the survival of as many shark species is only beginning for them. But as for the issue of shark finning, I believe it is an industry that is going to end one way or another and business must work with government to help the people in the industry to survive.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum in recognition of the latter's Global Shapers initiative. The Global Shapers Community is a worldwide network of city-based hubs developed and led by young entrepreneurs, activists, academics, innovators, disruptors and thought leaders. Aged between 20 and 30, they are exceptional in their achievements and drive to make a positive contribution to their communities. Follow the Global Shapers on Twitter at @globalshapers or nominate a Global Shaper at http://www.globalshapers.org/apply.