Published 9 February 2007


Five things not to eat for Chinese New Year

Beijing, China, 9 February 2007—Looking for that sumptuous dining experience as Chinese New Year approaches? TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, says that by avoiding or carefully sourcing certain foods, such as shark's fin, sea cucumber and abalone, you can avoid having a detrimental impact on the planet's natural resources and a guilt free Year of the Pig.

Shark fins for sale, Hong Kong: you could be buying trouble for the environment, warns TRAFFIC © WWF-Canon / Meg GAWLER

“It's about being aware of what you consume, and the impact it can have on species and the environment,” says Timothy Lam of TRAFFIC in Hong Kong. “Some people are not aware of which species are under pressure of over-exploitation. Our advice is based on threats to wildlife and the environment from unsustainable trade and consumer demand.”

Eric Bohm of WWF Hong Kong adds, “For many of these species, we feel that until such time as there is a sustainable and certifiable source of these items, consumers should stay away from them as they are coming under increasing threat.”

* Abalone—If buying, buy carefully. The prized delicacy may be popular, but watch out. Abalone stocks have plummeted in South Africa where almost all the abalone harvested is exported to East Asia, with Hong Kong the major importer. Perlemoen, as it is known in South Africa, is valued for its meat and is able to fetch prices up to USD1,000/kg during Chinese New Year. Continued illegal harvesting and trade could have a severe impact on the survival of the species, and could result in the closure of legal fisheries and the loss of hundreds of jobs. South Africa, while witnessing the worst of poaching and illegal trade of abalone, is not the only country facing this challenge. Ask your supplier if their abalone has been legally sourced – regardless of the country it comes from—before buying.

* Shark’s fin—Buy very carefully. Shark fin soup is a Chinese delicacy that has been used for more than 2,000 years to honour important occasions. Over 80 countries are involved in the shark fin trade, with Hong Kong at its centre. It is estimated that there are over 400 species of sharks worldwide and 83 species are listed as either Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable at the global or regional level. Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year through by-catch or direct catch for fins and meat. Finning, which involves cutting the fins and generally throwing the rest of the shark back into the sea, is widely practiced. The international trade in sharks’ fins is placing severe pressures on slow-growing and vulnerable shark populations. If fishing continues unchecked, scientists fear shark populations will decline past critical thresholds.

*Sea cucumber—Buy very carefully. For centuries, sea cucumbers have been a popular source of food, most notably in East Asia. In the 1980s, international trade in sea cucumbers for food increased dramatically. The fishery in Ecuador emerged at that time, comprising almost exclusively only one species Isostichopus fuscus; by 1991 the fishery for sea cucumbers along mainland Ecuador had been exhausted and the country’s fishing effort focused on populations in the Galapagos Islands. Although exports of sea cucumber from Ecuador account for a tiny proportion of the world trade in this commodity, the impact of the fishery in that country threatens to affect the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands. Sea cucumbers are also shipped from many other countries around the world to East Asia. They are predominantly sourced from developing countries with little or no management in place. In general, sea cucumbers are easily overfished and need much greater levels of management around the world.

* Facai moss (Flagelliform nostoc)—Don't buy. A black, hair-like moss that for centuries has been eaten in soups and a variety of dishes in the belief that it will increase the wealth of those who eat it. The harvesting of “facai,” which sounds the same as “get rich” in Cantonese Chinese has turned millions of acres of grasslands in China into desert. To obtain the facai, which grows on the roots of grass, harvesters uproot grass, which takes about ten years to regrow. In the meantime, the earth where the grass formerly grew is exposed to the wind, resulting in desertification. About four acres of grassland are damaged for each pound (450g) of moss collected. China outlawed the sale of facai in 2000.  Thus facai moss available on the market is illegal. However, artificial “facai” is available in market and can be a good alternative.

* ‘Health’ tonics containing endangered species – Buy very carefully. Tonics containing endangered species such as wild ginseng, Asian freshwater turtles, seahorses, saiga antelope, pangolins, geckos, tigers, amongst others, are often consumed for Chinese New Year. All of these species are subject to overexploitation and uncontrolled trade. For example, few wild ginseng (Panax spp.) plants worldwide remain, with many wild ginseng species Critically Endangered. Although most roots on the market come from cultivated beds and a considerable amount is legally harvested from the wild, an unsustainable, illegal market still exists. Asia’s freshwater turtles are literally being eaten out of existence, with three-quarters now listed as threatened, and over half considered Endangered. An estimated 24 million seahorses are taken from the wild every year, for use in traditional Chinese medicine, or sold live for the aquarium trade. Trade in all 33 seahorse species are regulated by CITES. With only around 5,000 tigers left in the wild, all international trade of tiger products is illegal, thus wines or tonics containing tiger bone are strictly prohibited.

Further information:
Caroline Liou, Programme Officer – Communications, TRAFFIC East Asia - China Programme. Tel: +86 1370 120 4254 (mobile), +86 10-6522-7100 ext. 3811, email: