Hong Kong (CNN) -- Cathay Pacific, the world's largest carrier of air cargo, will stop shipping unsustainably sourced shark products in a move marine conservation groups characterized as a big step forward in efforts to protect the animals.
"We believe that we now have compelling evidence that the majority of shark fishing is incompatible with our position on Sustainable Development," Cathay Pacific said in a statement.
"Due to the vulnerable nature of sharks, their rapidly declining population, and the impacts of overfishing for their parts and products, our carriage of these is inconsistent with our commitment to sustainable development," the airline said.
The ban will apply to Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragonair, both major players in the transport of air cargo to Hong Kong and China. Shark's fin soup remains a popular delicacy for weddings and banquets within China. In order to obtain these fins, fishermen catch sharks, cut off their fins and throw the sharks back into the water to die.
Environmentalists say this wasteful practice puts several shark species at risk of extinction. An estimate 50% of the shark fin trade comes through Hong Kong.
Stanley Shea, from the marine advocacy group Bloom Association, believes Cathay Pacific's move sends a message to other Hong Kong corporations. They are "showing other corporates they understand the issue and making change happening in Hong Kong."
The airline says it will take three months to implement the new policy, but it will stop accepting any new contracts immediately.
Cathay's decision came after the airline received a July letter from more than 40 international environmental organizations, requesting it set an "aggressive timeline" to stop carrying shark's fin.
In the letter, the group estimated Cathay Pacific carries between 20-50% of all the air cargo trade in shark's fin.
Shea said they are also targeting the shipping lines, which are still responsible for carrying the majority of shark products worldwide.