Ran Elfassy - Shark Rescuer
written by Hamish Mckenzie (Time Out - Hong Kong) - Feb 2010
Hongkonger: Ran Elfassy, shark rescuer
Sharks are very important creatures, but they have terrible PR. As the beasts that swim at the top of the underwater food chain, their very existence is crucial to sustaining the health of marine eco systems – but how often do you hear about that? Instead, we greedy humans gobble them up in massive quantities without a second thought, whether it be in fancy soups featuring their hacked-off fins, or occasionally swaddled in deep-fried batter, posing as the ‘fish’ part of our fish’n’chips meal.
As a former PR man, Ran Elfassy is more than aware of sharks’ publicity problems. They’re largely seen as predators of the sea, but even more often they’re just seen as tasty – especially in our city. Elfassy says that phenomenon has translated into Hong Kong being the planet’s most prolific traders of shark products, with more than half of the world’s shark imports and exports passing through our borders, according to the United Nations’ Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.
“Hong Kong is arguably the uncontested leader in marine habitat destruction, globally,” says Elfassy, a Canadian who has been living here for six years. Elfassy worked in communications for the Human Rights Commission in Toronto before moving to Hong Kong, working as a media consultant and personal assistant before setting up Shark Rescue (sharkrescue.com) in August last year.
His goal is to use Shark Rescue to help turn Hong Kong into a world leader of shark preservation by 2020. “I am an optimist,” he says with a degree of understatement, “and I believe that tomorrow can be better than today. But that takes quite a lot of will and understanding from people.”
He set up his company, which sells educational products and raises awareness for the plight of his finned friends, to call for a ban on the shark trade around the world. “We can kill sharks dramatically quicker than they can reproduce,” he says. Sharks reproduce infrequently and only in small numbers, and they can take more than a decade to reach maturity. “There’s no such thing as a sustainable shark fishery.”
Shark Rescue is running a competition (sharkrescue.com/contests) that ends on Monday 1 and asks people to purchase a pack of postcards that call on Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang to bring an end to the shark trade. The winner gets a sailing trip in Indonesia that explores some of the world’s best diving spots.
All very well – but what of the cultural challenge Elfassy faces in changing shark-fin-soup-loving Hongkongers’ long-ingrained habits? “It’s just food,” he asserts. “That’s something we have to not forget.” If shark isn’t on the menu, it’s not the end of the world. After all, we always have that fail-safe but infrequently uttered option: eat something else.