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Bluefin Standoff in Hong Kong

By August 15, 2011No Comments

The annual Hong Kong Food Expo, organized by the Hong Kong Trade & Development Council (HKTDC) is one of the largest food expos of its kind in all of Asia. After receiving a tip from a fellow photojournalist, I raced down to pay the expo a visit. Upon arrival, we found a stall operated by representatives from the Yashima Shoji Co., Ltd. who were not only promoting Atlantic bluefin tuna sales, but were also offering free samples to wholesale trade buyers at the expo.

I approached them and asked why they were serving an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red-listed critically endangered species? After receiving no response, they quickly realized that I was with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (perhaps it was the black shirt with Sea Shepherd’s Jolly Roger that gave it away). The question I asked prompted a chain of events that we watched in utter disbelief. They all got on their phones and within moments, a team of event security staff arrived accompanied by the event organizers. One of the event organizers asked what was my “problem?” I explained that all I asked was a simple question, and that I am merely waiting quietly until I get an answer.

Some dialogue went back and forth between them before I asked them why they, as the event organizer, were allowing a vendor to bring in an endangered species to the expo and their official response for the record.

Tensions were rising for both the Chinese event staff and the Japanese sales representatives. Moments later, the Japanese staff began to remove all the bluefin samples from the display as well as all the signage, and they weren’t happy. Unsure quite what to do next, the event staff and security turned around and simply walked away.

I hadn’t planned on this reaction at all, but here I was standing next to the only bluefin tuna stall at the expo that was now completely bare, except for some posters on the wall and nine staff members all standing and staring at me. What could I do? If I left, they would simply setup the bluefin sampling once again. So I decided that I must stay until the end of the day to ensure that wouldn’t happen.

In the afternoon, the South China Morning Post newspaper came down to speak with me to find out what was going on. After several hours of waiting, the Japanese staff decided that they would start trying to give out their free samples again to see how I would respond. At first, it was absolutely gut wrenching watching the ignorant hordes of people come charging on this mass. As another tray of meat disappeared and I began feeling somewhat deflated, I felt compelled to do something. I pulled out my camera and started taking a photo of every person who tried to sample the meat from the endangered species. This strategy proved to be an instant crowd disperser and before long, it was just my new so-called friends and I alone together again at the booth.

Six o’clock finally came around and the expo came to a close. I bid the Japanese sales team farewell and told them I’d see them in the morning, their expressions alone were worth a photo themselves!

I awoke on Sunday morning to find a front-page article in the August 13th edition of the South China Morning Post (requires subscription). Upon arriving at the expo, I found no one at yesterday’s stand handing out bluefin tuna samples. I waited and waited, when finally, one of the staff turned up, saw me, and made a prompt call. Then, I waited and waited some more but no one came to open up shop! I remained at the expo all day until I was certain this stall did not open, pretty much the only stall not to open at the entire expo while everyone else was doing a roaring trade.

By taking the initiative to investigate the expo and asking one simple question, while standing my ground and wearing a well-known conservation organization’s black shirt, I had just in fact removed bluefin from one of the largest food expos in Asia. Despite the fact that this is only one expo and one instance, it is a win for the species nonetheless and an example of what can and should be done around the world. It has been a good weekend indeed!

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