Shark fins drying in the sun cover the roof of a factory building in Hong Kong on January 2, 2013.
AFP PHOTO/Antony Dickson

An Ocean of Shark Fins



HONG KONG - On a factory rooftop in Kennedy Town, on the west side of Hong Kong Island, between 15,000 and 20,000 shark fins dry in the sun. They’re a highly prized commodity in China, used in traditional soups for special occasions. Hong Kong is a principal hub for “finning” – where fishermen keep only the fins, tossing the rest of the carcass back in the ocean – a practice denounced by environmental protection organisations as devastating for the world’s shark population.

“Images of this incredible scene had been posted for a while on Facebook and other social media,” said photographer Antony Dickson. “I went in contact with some environment activists I knew. On Wednesday, the activists called and a couple of colleagues and I met them near an industrial building in Kennedy Town. We climbed some stairs and rode an elevator to the top of the building. We found two workers that left quickly when they saw us. Everything was pretty clandestine but nobody stopped us.”


Shark fins drying in the sun cover the roof of a factory building in Hong Kong on January 2, 2013.
AFP PHOTO/Antony Dickson

“It was surreal. I had seen a lot of shark fins before on the shelves in Hong Kong markets, but nothing on such a massive scale. The weather was sunny and relatively dry. I imagine this is the ideal season to dry shark fins. We stayed about 20 minutes on the roof. Then I went down and I climbed at the top of the building next door to get a general view. It was even more impressive. Processing and selling shark fins is legal in Hong Kong, but I was stunned to see so many thousands of shark pieces lying next to each other, over several floors. I wonder how often these massive dryings happen. Once a year? Once a week?”


This photo taken on January 2, 2013 shows shark fins drying in the sun covering the roof of a factory building in Hong Kong.
AFP PHOTO/Antony Dickson

Non-profit campaigns against this lucrative business have made headway in Hong Kong over the past several years. Many large international hotels have banned shark fin from their menus, and the airline Cathay Pacific now refuses to transport fins. Still, sales around China are flourishing. In Hong Kong shark fins used to be dried on the sidewalk, but environmental activists say the fins are now on rooftops for fear of a negative public reaction.


This photo taken on January 2, 2013 shows shark fins (C) on a shelf for sale in a shop in Hong Kong.
AFP PHOTO/Antony Dickson

“After some time some security guards asked us to leave,” Dickson said. “Another AFP photographer went back today (Thursday). I suppose that the owners of the fins got scared after seeing the pictures in the media because there was nothing left there: all the fins had been removed.”