HONG KONG — China said Tuesday that it would prohibit official banquets from serving shark fin soup, a pricey and popular delicacy blamed for a sharp decline in global shark populations.
The ban, reported by Xinhua, the state-run news agency, could take as long as three years to take effect, and it remains unclear how widely it will be implemented across a sprawling nation where orders issued by Beijing are often shrugged off by officials in faraway regions and provinces.
Still, the decision to stop serving shark fin soup at official functions was welcomed by environmental campaigners.
Environmentalists have long cautioned that soaring demand for the soup over the past two decades has imperiled shark populations around the globe.
‘‘This is a very positive step forward,’’ said Andy Cornish, director of conservation at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong. ‘‘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.’’
He said the move would send an important signal to consumers in China, the largest market for the fins.
Stan Shea, a project coordinator in Hong Kong at Bloom Association, a marine conservation organization, likewise welcomed the policy change, saying that it represented a ‘‘big step’’ to help shark populations.
The soup, brewed from dried shark fins, is largely tasteless and slithery but has considerable cachet as a status symbol.