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A Japanese company is launching fake shark fins in China, hoping to tap a market as prices for real ones rise amid concerns the species is being hunted to extinction.

Shark fin is considered one of the highest-end delicacies in Chinese cuisine and also fetches high prices in select Japanese restaurants.

Nikko Yuba Seizo Co., a Japanese food-processing company, said it had developed artificial shark fins made out of pork gelatin. Its top executives returned yesterday from a two-day trip to China to introduce the products.

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"Shark-fin prices have been rising constantly in recent years due to a fall in the volume traded, so we decided to develop an artificial fin," said Tadashi Kozuka, a top official of the company that also trades real shark fins imported from Indonesia, Brazil and elsewhere.

"We visited Shanghai and Dalian - big cities where wealthy Chinese people live - to seek trading partners. I guess fins sell well among rich people," he said.

But he said the artificial version would also appeal to Chinese who would not be able to afford the real fins, which are served as a luxury at weddings and other important occasions.

Mr. Kozuka said the company had long queues of customers when it first presented its product in China at a trade fair in June in the southern city of Guangzhou.

The price of the gelatin-made fin is only one-tenth of the real one, or about 1,500 yen ($13 Canadian) a kilogram when sold wholesale, he said.

Controversy over China's appetite for shark's fin rose last year when the country's most famous sports personality, basketball star Yao Ming, called for a boycott of the dish to save the fish from extinction. Some species of shark are now endangered.

Environmentalists have campaigned to stop "finning," when fishermen catch sharks and cut off their fins before throwing the carcasses back into the sea.

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