Basketball star Yao Ming speaks out against shark finning
WildAid's campaign to end shark-finning has ramped up in San Francisco over the past few months. You might have seen the ads featuring Yao Ming, the most famous Chinese basketball player in the NBA, on MUNI buses around the city. They show the 7 foot 6 inch tall center pushing a bowl of shark fin soup away with a caption saying, “Yao says no. Protect the sharks.”
Yao flew into town from Shanghai last week to receive WildAid’s International Ambassador award; the basketball star’s been working with the organization for about five years. KALW's Ben Trefny sat down with Yao Ming and asked him how popular shark fin soup is in China.
YAO MING: Very, very popular. It’s a luxury food. Many of business dinner, a lot of high-level dinners, they will bring shark fin soup. I’ve tried a couple times many years ago. It’s very popular in China.
BEN TREFNY: When did you realize there might be a problem with shark fins?
YAO: I think since we know that a little bit even before I worked with WildAid, but we never realized it was that serious problem. I became more worried about our future, the sharks’ future as well as related to our future.
TREFNY: Do you feel there’s a generational communications issue with the issue of shark fins? You’re pretty young – you have the awareness from WildAid. Coming from a different generation, for your parents or your parents’ parents, do you think that there has been some resistance to trying to stop finning sharks?
YAO: That’s a good question. As I know the shark fin soup is not choosed by what age people are going to eat it. They will be served in very high-level or business or other event dinners. That’s why it’s very important for us to go telling those leaders, to start from that level, and then starting down and tell more people how important it is to protect sharks.
TREFNY: There’s obviously a big campaign going on to try to educate people about shark fins. Is the government involved in any way with this? Do they see this as an issue as well?
YAO: Yeah, of course. As I know that we are cooperating with Chinese government fishermen departments. In the past few years, we really made something happen. So on the national television, CCTV, which is the most powerful media in China – they are donate their precious time for put out commercial on air to educate people.
TREFNY: I’ve heard that there’s been like $70 million of time donated for that.
YAO: It’s quite a bit. And that’s a great help for us, and we used that well. As i know, there’s about 55% people they remembered the commercial on TV, and 82% of people in that is going to stop eat, at least less using the shark fin.
TREFNY: So you’ve become a very, very significant figure in China, in pop culture in America. Why did you lend your name to this campaign?
YAO: First of all, I saw some of WildAid commercial before I worked with them, such like Jackie Chan – he’s a big model for our generation of Chinese people, partly because of that. And I just feel I want to help.
So WildAid has enlisted international celebrities to help challenge traditions like eating shark fin soup. But is it going to make a difference here in San Francisco? A recent study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium found that more than three-quarters of people surveyed said they support a shark fin ban.
But two of the city's most prominent Chinese-American elected officials – Mayor Ed Lee and State Senator Leland Yee – have a more nuanced take on the issue. Neither made himself available for a radio interview, but Senator Yee's office did send us a written statement. Here’s what it says.
“Senator Yee is completely opposed to the inhumane practice of shark finning and supports federal legislation banning the practice ... however believes there is a better approach ... Shark fin soup sales should come from only licensed fishermen who bring the entire shark on shore for steaks, oils, etc ... Restaurants should need a receipt showing their purchase from the licensed fishermen/distributor or from a sustainable fishery ... This approach would significantly decrease the demand, while also respecting and not eliminating a cultural tradition. The fact is that this bill alone, without a change in China, would do little to address the very real problem regarding the plight of sharks.”
Do you agree with Senator Yee? Is there a compromise between respecting a cultural tradition and respecting wildlife? Let us know what you think by calling as 415-264-7106. That’s 415-264-7106.