A ‘Fin-Win’ Situation for Sharks

In 2009, a small organization formed to tackle the huge problem of shark finning.  They used positive messaging, cultural values, and a wedding contest to help raise awareness about the problems associated with finning.  Shark finning is a cruel and wasteful process, where a shark’s fins are removed and the remainder of the shark is discarded at sea.

(Image from: Jim Toomey, 2008)

Shark Truth, a Vancouver-based initiative, began when Claudia Li realized she could work within the culture to enhance communication, cultural understanding, and access to networks to gain support from the target Chinese community.  Instead of focusing on the graphic images so often associated with finning, the organization uses a positive approach.  They target couples aged 18 to 35, encouraging them to pledge not to serve shark fin soup at their weddings –where the majority of shark fin soup is traditionally served.

Shark fin soup (Image from: http://www.vancitybuzz.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Shark-Fin-Soup.jpg)

 Their wedding contest, “Happy Hearts Love Sharks”, allows couples to pledge not to serve the soup at their wedding banquets for a chance to win a trip.  The contest has diverted 80 000 bowls of shark fin soup so far, while promoting awareness of the ecological impacts of finning to attendees.  They have also more recently hosted a restaurant campaign, encouraging restaurants to pledge to go fin free.

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To gauge their effectiveness, Shark Truth track the number of restaurants that have made the change to Fin Free, the number of media hits in print and online, the number of followers on social media, the number of newsletter subscribers, petition signatures they collect, participants at outreach programs and attendees at presentations, and bowls of shark fin soup diverted by their Happy Hearts Love Sharks campaign.  They also track anecdotal success on declines in sales and imports through partner groups. Though most of this information is valuable to determine how well they are communicating their message, it doesn’t accurately determine whether they are having any effect.

How did we determine success?

In order to determine success ourselves then, we first had to define it.  Success for community outreach is a tricky thing to measure.  It’s easy enough to get a gut feeling for it, but when you try to determine it objectively and quantitatively, you run into problems.  How do you track behavioural change in a city as large as Vancouver?  Well, we came up with a few methods of indirectly tracking it.  Our definition for success is as follows:

  • How many restaurants went Fin Free in 2012? Shark Truth intended on having at least one restaurant pledge to go Fin Free in this year, so if they achieved that, then they would pass this metric.

  • How many couples signed up for their Happy Hearts Love Sharks contest each year? They intended on reaching 28 couples per year so to pass this metric they must have reached this number for each of the years they ran the contest (2010-2012).

  • Has demand for shark fin soup decreased in Vancouver?

  • Do prominent individuals in shark biology and conservation consider Shark Truth to be successful?

On September 29, 2012 one of Vancouver’s popular Chinese seafood restaurants, Floata, removed shark fin from their menu, passing our first metric. Chongqing Seafood Restaurant also went Fin Free in the same year.  In the 3 years Happy Hearts has run, they had 16, 25, and 17 entries.  Though Shark Truth did not manage to meet their target of 28 couples signing up for Happy Hearts each year, they have exported the contest internationally –most importantly to Hong Kong, the largest market for fins in the world, where the contest had 62 couples sign up in 2012. Therefore, we have determined that they pass this metric regardless.  Interviews with restaurant owners in the Vancouver area suggest that demand for shark fin soup has decreased, but we do not have objective data for this metric.  Finally, Dr. Nick Dulvy, the chair of the IUCN shark specialist group and a close collaborator with Shark Truth, considers them to be a very unique organization.  He sees their greatest strength as the close relationship it has with the Chinese community, a unique trait amongst shark conservation organizations.  Shark Truth are now expanding their efforts beyond Shark Truth, to the Hua Foundation, where they will be continuing on with their work.

(Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/59/Caribbean_reef_shark.jpg)

Going forward, we have several recommendations for Shark Truth and the Hua Foundation:

  • Setting small, quantitative objectives that they will be able to achieve on a monthly or yearly basis

  • Polling the Chinese community before and after implementing any new campaigns in order to assess a change in awareness or behaviour

  • Remembering that outputs are not an accurate predictor of success, and instead using various outcomes as metrics.

For an organization started by a small group of “young and naive” individuals hoping to stop shark finning, they have managed to contribute extensively to the cause, even though they haven’t yet achieved their initial vision of completely ending shark finning (Huang, 2013).