Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (February 7):
There are currently eight shark species listed in Appendix II to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (the Convention) and regulated under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586). Members of the public must obtain a permit issued by the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation before importing, exporting or re-exporting products of regulated shark species; otherwise, they commit an offence. On the other hand, it has been reported that some merchants have deliberately mislabeled the shark species to which their shark fin products belong so as to evade legal liability, resulting in the carriage of regulated shark fin products by airlines and shipping companies without their knowledge. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective quantities of the various types of shark fin products imported, exported and re-exported in each of the past five years, together with a tabulated breakdown by (i) shark species, (ii) place of origin and (iii) destination of the products, as well as (iv) means of transport;
(2) of the (i) number of cases, (ii) total value and (iii) weight, of shark fin products being seized, as they were suspected to be of regulated species, by the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) in each of the past five years, together with a tabulated breakdown by (a) shark species, (b) mode of trade (i.e. import, export or re-export), (c) place of origin, (d) destination of the products, and (e) means of transport; the penalties generally imposed on the convicted persons in such cases, and the roles played by such persons in the trade (e.g. importer or exporter); if the authorities cannot provide such information, of the reasons for that;
(3) of the measures currently adopted by the authorities for regulating the trading of shark fin products in Hong Kong; the number of random sample tests conducted by C&ED on shark fin products imported, exported and re-exported in each of the past five years; whether C&ED has plans to step up law enforcement efforts against the smuggling and illegal trading of shark fin products, including strategically deploying customs officers in various means of transport to conduct sample tests; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(4) whether the authorities currently have measures in place to ensure the accuracy of the information in the cargo manifests submitted by product owners to freight companies and C&ED; if so, of the details; whether the authorities will expeditiously review and amend the Hong Kong Harmonised System commodity code currently applicable to shark fin products, such as establishing a separate Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System for shark species which have been listed in Appendix II to the Convention, for identifying the information of those products and their classifications; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(5) as some survey findings have revealed that there are food products of at least 76 shark species on sale in the local market, and nearly one-third of them belong to endangered and vulnerable shark species, whether the authorities have plans to adopt additional measures to strengthen the regulation of the trading of regulated shark food products; whether the authorities will consider establishing a mandatory labelling scheme for shark food products to allow consumers to identify clearly whether the shark food products sold by restaurants and dried seafood merchants belong to regulated species; and
(6) as it is learnt that more animal and plant species will be listed in Appendix II to the Convention, whether the authorities have plans to allocate more resources and set up a mechanism to prevent newly listed animal and plant species from being illegally imported into or re-exported from Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
Reply to the questions by the Hon Leung is as follows:
(1) Details of the origin of country, destination of shipment, transport mode and the total volume of import, export and re-export of the shark products in the past 5 years (2013-2017) are set out in Annex I. The Government does not have the breakdown of the figures based on shark species.
(2) Details of controlled shark fin products seizures in the past five years (2013-2017) are set out in Annex II.
(3) The Government is committed to protecting endangered species and implements the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Hong Kong through the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586) (the Ordinance). There are many species of sharks. Currently, great white shark, basking shark, whale shark, oceanic whitetip shark, porbeagle shark and three species of hammerhead sharks are listed in the Appendix II (species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled) of CITES and are subject to control under the Ordinance. Besides, four more shark species (silky shark and three species of thresher sharks) have been newly listed in Appendix II to CITES since October 2017. A legislative exercise has been initiated to amend the Ordinance to put the newly listed species (including the abovementioned four species) under the Ordinance.
The trade in controlled shark fins is regulated through the import and export (Note 1) control in accordance with CITES. Import of shark fins of CITES listed shark species must be accompanied with a valid CITES export permit and be inspected by an authorised officer upon landing. Also, re-export (Note 2) of shark fins of CITES listed shark species requires a licence issued by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and the specimen shall be inspected by an authorised officer prior to export.
In the past five years (2013 to 2017), the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) and the AFCD had conducted 167 joint operations in combating smuggling of shark fin products at the airport, sea boundary and various land boundary control points. Through risk profiling and intelligence analysis, the C&ED selects import and export cargo for inspection, and also steps up the checks on passengers, postal parcels and conveyances at various control points and sea boundary to combat smuggling activities, including smuggling of endangered species. Moreover, the C&ED will continue to work closely with the AFCD in taking robust enforcement actions against smuggling of endangered species.
(4) According to the Import and Export Ordinance (Cap. 60), carrier shall record all particulars of an import or export cargo in a manifest and submit the manifest within 14 days after the arrival or departure of the vessel, aircraft or vehicle. The carrier shall also submit the manifest, upon request of the C&ED, when the vessel, aircraft or vehicle is arriving or leaving Hong Kong. Through risk profiling and intelligence analysis, the C&ED selects import and export cargo for inspection. When any person is found to import or export unmanifested cargo, the C&ED will conduct investigation of the case and take appropriate enforcement actions which include prosecution and forfeiture of the goods concerned.
From time to time, the C&ED has also reminded carriers, cargo agents and different industry players about the statutory requirements of the Import and Export Ordinance, which include providing accurate cargo information in the manifest, etc.
To take account of the latest recommendations by the World Customs Organisation and cater for local specific needs, the Government reviews the Hong Kong Harmonised System (HKHS) annually and consults various stakeholders (including government departments, importers/exporters and other organisations) on the proposed amendments to HKHS. In considering the relevant proposed amendments, the Government takes into account a number of consideration factors with reference to the latest situation of international trade, with a view to striking a balance between the reporting burdens of declarants, the demands for trade statistics, and the needs of enforcement.
(5) and (6) As mentioned above, the C&ED has been working closely with the AFCD to carry out joint enforcement operations from time to time to combat the illegal import and export of various endangered species, including controlled shark fin. For example, the two departments conducted a joint operation in early 2017 and found four sea consignments mixed with shark fins of controlled shark species. A total of 1 280 kilograms of shark fins were seized in the operation. The AFCD also organised training courses on the identification of newly listed shark species so that the front-line officers of the AFCD and the C&ED are prepared for the work of the newly-controlled shark species in future. The AFCD will continue to work closely with the C&ED to combat the illegal import and export of endangered species. From time to time, the two departments will review the resource requirements and request additional resources as required under the existing mechanism.
In order to provide a sufficiently strong deterrent against illicit wildlife trade, and to send a clear message to the international and local communities that the Government is committed to the protection of endangered species and to combating wildlife trafficking, the Government had promulgated a new set of penalties for offences convicted on indictment and to increase the penalties under the Ordinance by the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants (Amendment) Ordinance 2018, which had just been passed by the Legislative Council on 31 January 2018. A fine of $1,000,000 and imprisonment for seven years will be imposed for indictable offences concerning Appendix II species (including the controlled shark fin products) under the new penalties. We consider the above penalties are high enough to provide a strong deterrent against the illegal wildlife trade and to show that the government is very serious about deterring these crimes.
Compared with the establishment of a mandatory labeling system, we believe that the promotion of publicity and education would be more effective in raising public awareness of the need to protect endangered species. The Government promulgates the message of sustainable use and protection of endangered species to the schools and the general public through various channels, including announcements through the media, the Internet, advertising, leaflets and posters, as well as participation in various exhibitions and seminars. Also, the Sustainable Development Council (SDC) launched a public engagement exercise on promotion of sustainable consumption of biological resources to raise public awareness as well as to solicit views from the community and stakeholders on the promotion of sustainable consumption of biological resources. In June 2017, the SDC submitted a report to the Government putting up recommendations on sustainable consumption of biological resources. The Government welcomed the comments and recommendations of the SDC and will follow up under the framework of the Hong Kong Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2021. The Government has also taken the lead in adopting sustainable and conservation-conscious menus, including no shark-fin, in official entertainment functions. The Government will also continue to amend the Ordinance in the light of the latest development of the CITES and to provide adequate resources to implement the corresponding regulations.
Note 1: In accordance with the Ordinance, “import” means to bring, or cause to be brought, into Hong Kong but does not include to introduce from the sea, whereas “export” means to take, or cause to be taken, out of Hong Kong but does not include to re-export.
Note 2: In accordance with the Ordinance, “re-export” in relation to a specimen of a scheduled speci