Calling the global trade of shark fins “unsustainable, irresponsible, unbelievably cruel and ecologically reckless,” Sen. Michael MacDonald has repeated his call to make it illegal to import them in Canada.
Bill S-238, known as the Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act, is now before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, and last night MacDonald launched its consultation.
“The bill is relatively short and simple,” the Tory senator said. “However, I believe (it) would allow for Canada to take a leading role in ending the trade of shark fins.”
The practice of shark finning has been banned in Canada since 1994. However, fins can still be imported — and demand for them has been rising. In 2015, more than 144,000 kg of fins were brought into this country — a 36 per cent increase since 2012. The majority came from Hong Kong and China, and were very likely sourced from finning.
Outside of East Asia, Canada is actually the largest importer of fins in the world.
Most imported fins are used in shark fin soup. Although fins add no flavour, they are considered a delicacy by some Asian cultures. There’s also a misconception that the fins are nutritional and contain medicinal properties.
In addition to enshrining Canada’s ban on finning into law, the bill aims to ban the importation of shark fins that are not attached to a shark carcass. Exceptions would be permitted if the import was for scientific research or if it benefited the survival of a species.
The bill doesn’t call for a ban on shark fin soup or the consumption of shark fin within Canada. The focus is on fins that aren’t attached to a carcass, as it’s impossible to tell from the fin alone if it came from an endangered species.
“Shark finning, colleagues, is a global phenomenon that is decimating one of the most critical species on the planet,” MacDonald said. “Upwards of 100 million sharks are killed each year to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup. It is an ecological disaster in full progress.”
In the last 50 years, the populations of some species of sharks have declined more than 80 per cent.
“Is it any wonder than 74 shark species are listed as threatened?” he asked. He noted that another 67 species have been deemed near-threatened; 14 of the species most often targeted for their fins can be found on those lists.
Despite this, only eight species of sharks have international protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. But according to the Canadian branch of the Humane Society International, “even for those eight species, there is little to no actual enforcement of the relevant import restrictions in Canada. Shark fins are not labeled by species or country of origin, and many vulnerable sharks continue to be killed for their fins.”
Conservative Sen. Don Plett seemed to question MacDonald’s numbers and the prevalence of finning. He mentioned that while visiting markets in China, he’s asked vendors if they use all parts of the shark — and was told they do.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt there’s a correlation between finning and decline of sharks,” MacDonald said.
The practice is horrific, he said, as most of these sharks have their fins cut off at sea while they’re still alive and are then thrown overboard to drown or bleed to death.
“This is not a political issue. It is not a partisan matter. It is not an overstatement to raise fears of eventual extinction because it is the only possible outcome unless we collectively do something.”
Sharks predate the dinosaurs by 150 million years and, as apex predators, play a critical role in maintaining balance in ocean ecosystems — home to 80 per cent of the species on earth. That means sharks ultimately play a large role in sustaining life on this planet.
Finning concerns are compounded by how slowly most species of sharks reproduce. They don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re between 10 and 25 years of age, and have low reproductive rates.
In 2013, NDP MP Fin Donnelly proposed a federal ban on the importation of shark fins. His bill was narrowly defeated 143 to 138, but was supported by both the NDP and Liberals. He’s supporting MacDonald’s bill and says in the years since, awareness has grown around the issue, including among MPs and senators.
The carnage left by finning sits on the ocean floor, out of sight and out of mind, but MacDonald said that has to change — and he believes it is changing. He told the committee he’s encouraged by the incredible support he’s received since announcing his plans this past spring. The city of Toronto has adopted a motion to support the bill. An online petition has garnered more than 18,000 signatures. Despite the cultural sensitivities involved, he said most people are “pretty reasonable when it comes to the survival of a species.”
“I’ve yet to hear from a single individual or organization that’s opposed.”
The family of Canadian filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart, who died earlier this year while filming the sequel to his award-winning documentary, Sharkwater, is also backing the bill. The film played a huge role in bringing the issue of finning to light and MacDonald has said his bill was inspired by Stewart’s efforts. His family is carrying on with that work and is expected to appear before the committee at some point.
MacDonald said there are already bans in place in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, and a bill similar to his is working its way through the U.S. Congress. He believes it’s irresponsible and unacceptable for Canada to prohibit the practice of shark finning while allowing the importation of shark fins.
“I truly believe that Canada is capable of doing better. I think Canada can be an example to the world. It’s a lot easier to take the lead when you put your money where your mouth is.
“It should be part of being a conservative, conserving things.”
By Holly Lake. Published on Dec 6, 2017