China will ban the controversial delicacy shark fin soup at official banquets in response to efforts by environmental campaigners, The New York Times reported, citing state media. The prohibition will take up to three years to come into effect as it may be difficult to enforce in lower-tier cities where officials sometimes ignore Beijing’s directives. Environmental groups praised Beijing’s decision. “It is the first time that the Chinese central government has expressed a decision to phase out shark fin from banquets funded by taxpayers’ money,” said Andy Cornish, director of conservation at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong. China is the world’s largest market for shark fins. Hong Kong, also a major consumer of shark fins, has not taken action to curb their consumption. The Hong Kong Shark Society estimated in a 2006 study that between 26 million and 73 million are killed each year for their fins.