A member of China's parliament has proposed a ban on the trade in shark fins, state press said Wednesday -- a move that would likely face huge opposition from the nation's culinary traditionalists.
Shark fins are used to make a soup that is a staple at high-end restaurants throughout China, and is often served on special occasions.
But scientists blame the practice of shark-finning -- slicing off the fins of live animals and then throwing them back in the water to die -- for a worldwide collapse in shark populations.
"Only legislation can stop shark fin trading and reduce the killings of sharks," Xinhua news agency quoted Ding Liguo, a billionaire delegate to the National People's Congress (NPC), as saying.
Enormous profits generated by the shark fin trade have led to over-fishing and the brutal slaughter of sharks, with some 30 species near extinction, he said.
China should lead the world in banning the trade because 95 percent of the world's shark fins are consumed in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, he added.
It was not immediately clear if Ding, the executive chairman of Delong Holdings Limited, filed a formal written proposal to the NPC, China's rubber-stamp parliament now in session, or just lodged a verbal request.
In any event, any law banning shark fin trade would likely take years to review and come into force if adopted.
A ban would face strong opposition from Chinese fishermen and restaurant owners, especially as rising incomes have led more and more Chinese to seek the health benefits traditionally attributed to a diet of shark fin.
"People are mistaken by the supposed nutritional value of shark fin," Ding countered.
"Research shows the nutritional value of shark fin is similar to that of poultry, fish skin, meat and eggs. It is tasteless and its low level nutritional value is hard to absorb by the body."
According to Shark Savers, a global organisation seeking to ban the trade in shark fins, over 100 million sharks are killed a year, mostly for their fins.
In some parts of the world's oceans, shark populations have decreased by up to 90 percent over the last 20 years, the group said.