Nanaimo city council showed its distaste for the practices behind shark fin soup Monday, unanimously passing the first two readings of a bylaw that would ban the trade, sale or distribution of shark fins or their derivative within city limits.
Shark fin soup is a traditional Chinese delicacy, often used at banquets or weddings to flaunt wealth. A bowl of soup can cost $100, while shark fins can fetch up to $800 per pound.
Because shark meat is almost worthless, sharks are often caught in a net, de-finned and then tossed back into the ocean by fishermen.
The practice is banned in Canadian waters, but countries like China, Spain, Costa Rica, Japan and others have no laws prohibiting finning.
According to staff officials, only one retailer in Nanaimo is known to offer shark fin soup, and it has agreed to come into compliance should a bylaw pass third and final reading. The delicacy is prevalent in municipalities like Vancouver and Richmond.
Anthony Marr, representing the Vancouver Animal Defence League, said the practice of finning sharks kills an estimated 70 million to 100 million sharks annually, with many of those species considered endangered.
“I realize Nanaimo does not have a lot of shark fins but Nanaimo is in a very strategic position to lead Vancouver Island in this charge,” said Marr. “Cities are rising one after another to ban this barbaric practice and I can say that because I’m of Chinese descent.”
Already Port Moody and Coquitlam have shark fin bans in place, while Surrey, Burnaby, Langley, North Vancouver and other B.C. municipalities are considering it.
Five U.S. states – Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington and Illinois – already have bans in effect, as do eight Ontario municipalities, including Toronto. Toronto city council has established a maximum fine of $100,000 for retailers caught selling shark fins.
Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan called the practice of finning “an absolute travesty” and a “pathetic and disgraceful thing to do” while Coun. Diane Brennan referred to it as “absolutely inhumane”.
The first two readings of the bylaw passed unanimously.
Marr added that sharks are slow to reproduce, and harvesting their fins at such a prolific rate will result in an imbalance in the ocean’s ecosystem as more shark species disappear.
“At least one third of the shark fins that arrive in Canada are from an endangered species, and that is a very conservative estimate,” he said. “Some people argue that if we wipe out sharks, an apex predator, there will be more fish for humans. That just shows a total ignorance of the ecology of the ocean.”
Unlike Toronto’s steep fines, however, under British Columbia’s Local Government Act municipalities here – Vancouver being exempt as it has its own charter – have limited power to impose such penalties.
If found not in compliance with the bylaw, should it pass, nominal fines would be imposed with the ultimate penalty being termination of the retailer’s business licence.
“As far as compliance goes, the first step for staff would be, if we found out anything was happening, would be to talk to the business owner and if they didn’t comply we would have council involved,” said Ted Swabey, general manager of development services. “The method to enforce this would involve going to court so it’s not something you just want to jump into. In 90 per cent of the cases we gain compliance with businesses when there is something that doesn’t work.”
There are several federal international and international laws that prohibit shark finning, including: Canada’s Wild Animals and Plants Protection International and Interprovincial Trade Act (1996); the Fisheries Act, which prohibits finning in Canadian waters; a United Nations declaration stating finning anywhere is illegal; and the Convention of the International Trade of Endangered Species, which states that no endangered or threatened species can be traded internationally.
Council is expected to pass the bylaw later this summer.