UPS halts shark fin shipments

Sandy Springs-based UPS has stopped accepting shipments of shark fins, following criticism of the practice.

Shark fin soup is a Chinese delicacy, particularly in Hong Kong, but some species of sharks targeted for their fins are threatened. To take these species, shark fishers must have additional documentation to show the fish were sustainably and legally caught.

An online petition telling UPS not to ship shark fins gathered more than 178,000 signatures in recent months. Shark protection organizations had protested at a UPS location in Hong Kong last month, saying UPS had shipped shark fins from Costa Rica.

UPS said it previously allowed shipment of fins from shark species that were not endangered or regulated, but that this week it banned the shark fins “due to concerns about the enforcement capabilities of the authorities.”

Specifically, the company said it found shark fin shipments were being visually inspected but learned from the World Wildlife Fund that visual inspections do not allow for certainty on the species.

“If a company is found to be in violation by transporting or shipping the endangered species, it’s possible that the shipper, the shipping company or all parties can be held liable,” said UPS spokesman Steve Gaut. The uncertainty in the visual inspection process led UPS to ban shark fin shipments.

“We applaud the steps UPS has taken to no longer carry fins,” said WWF program officer Ben Freitas, who said 73 million sharks are taken annually for their fins.

To enforce the new ban, UPS told its “relatively small number of customers shipping shark fins that we are no longer accepting them,” according to Gaut. It also added shark fins to its list of prohibited items and informed employees.

Shark fin shipments were an inconsequential portion of UPS’s business, Gaut said.

The shark campaign is the latest example of activists targeting companies that transport products to cut off trade of certain items.

While online petitioners have also asked UPS to stop transporting hunting trophies, UPS in that instance responded: “We avoid making judgments on the appropriateness of the contents.”

Gaut said the issue of shark-fin shipments is different.

“We’ve chosen to base our shipping policies on what is legal, because without having legality as the basis for the policy, then we subject ourselves to pressure from special interest groups,” Gaut said. That “could lead you to become quasi-regulatory, which is not what we are here for.”

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