Nanaimo MP won’t support bill to prohibit shark fin imports

NANAIMO – James Lunney says he abhors shark finning but has technical issues with proposed legislation.

James Lunney, Conservative MP for Nanaimo-Alberni, says he won’t vote in favour of proposed legislation that would ban the importation of shark fins to Canada, but that he does abhor the act of shark finning itself.

Fin Donnelly, NDP MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam, has proposed a private member’s bill, Bill C-380, to prohibit the importation of shark fins to Canada in an effort to protect endangered and threatened species of sharks. MPs will vote on the second reading of the bill on March 27.

Lunney said he opposes the bill for technical reasons.

“The reason I won’t support the bill is because it’s misdirected in terms of the technical aspects of the bill,” said Lunney. “It amends a law that doesn’t exist anymore. The Fish Inspection Act was repealed.”

Shark finning has been banned in Canadian waters since 1994, but countries like China, Spain, Costa Rica, Japan and Taiwan have no laws prohibiting finning, and because of lax Canadian import laws many shark fins from endangered species make it onto the shelves of Canadian retailers, most notably in Vancouver and Richmond.

“This practice which we all abhor has been banned in Canada since 1994. We’re concerned about the practice and we’re working on a solution with our international partners,” said Lunney.

Last October, the Vancouver Animal Defence League, along with CTV, carried out an investigation that revealed endangered shark species are being sold in the Lower Mainland.

Investigators purchased more than $2,000 worth of fins in Vancouver and Richmond and had each fin’s DNA tested at a lab in Guelph, Ont. Results showed that 86 per cent of the samples tested came from shark species considered endangered or vulnerable. Eight out of the 59 samples came from scalloped and great hammerhead sharks, both of which are on the verge of extinction.

Nanaimo resident Marley Daviduk, who has been working with Vancouver Animal Defence League to have shark fin imports banned, said she is concerned about Lunney’s opposition to having shark fin imports banned.

Marley Daviduk says 450 kilograms of dried fins arrive in Vancouver on any given day. Because the fins are dried and unlabelled, it is impossible to tell which fins belong to endangered species and which don’t without individually testing each one of them.

“Lunney is failing to recognize that the majority of shark fins being imported into Canada do not come from Canadian waters and the fact we have laws against finning sharks in Canada means nothing to a scalloped hammerhead being poached in the Galapagos Island Marine Reserve,” said Daviduk. “He also says there are measures in place to prevent endangered shark species from entering Canada but if you call and ask [the government] will tell you they get containers of shark fins arriving from Hong Kong and the only thing the importer has to state is how many by weight.”

Daviduk added she believes the industry, worth billions annually, is so lucrative that many countries turn a blind eye to the inhumane practice of shark finning.

“It’s too profitable to stop,” she said.

Donnelly’s bill proposes to amend the Fish Inspection Act and the Fisheries Act to prohibit importing shark fins not attached to the rest of the carcass for easier identification of the species the fin is from unless authorized by the fisheries minister.

“Sharks have long life cycles and are slow to reproduce. They predate dinosaurs,” said Donnelly while introducing Bill C-380 in the House of Commons. “They are apex predators and play a critical role in maintaining health and balance of our ocean ecosystems. For these reasons, sharks cannot sustain the intense fishing practices they are under… The consequences of not addressing this problem will significantly and permanently harm the health of our oceans.”

Daviduk is asking Nanaimo-Alberni constituents to appeal to Lunney to change his mind.

“The only way to prevent this is to have a blanket ban,” she said.

Scientists say shark populations have dropped by as much as 90 per cent globally, with more than 73 million killed every year just for their fins. Many municipalities, including Nanaimo, and some U.S. states have banned shark fins and shark fin products from being sold.

One third of all shark species are considered endangered, according to a United Nations committee.

Because shark meat is almost worthless, sharks are often caught, de-finned and then tossed back into the sea. Shark fin soup is a traditional Chinese delicacy, often used at banquets or weddings to flaunt wealth, but the fins themselves have no nutritional value. A single bowl of soup can cost $100, while shark fins can fetch up to $800 a pound.

Under the United Nation’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, only great white, basking and whale sharks are protected internationally, although several other shark species are scheduled to join the list due to declining numbers.

“If species like the scalloped or great hammerhead join that list, something will definitely have to be done because we now know those fins are landing on our shores,” said Daviduk.

Nanaimo city council officially banned local businesses from selling shark fins or shark fin products in October, while increasing the maximum fine to $10,000 for repeat offenders. Other B.C. municipalities to ban shark fin products include Port Moody and Coquitlam, while politicians in Richmond, Vancouver and Burnaby are considering a ban. Municipal bans, however, have little teeth in protecting endangered species. Only federal legislation can prevent shark fins from reaching Canadian shores, said Daviduk.

Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, California and Illinois have also banned the sale of shark fins.