Nanaimo teen addresses MP over shark fin imports

NANAIMO – Petition part of an effort to have Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney change his mind on Bill C-380.

Brittany Carpenter

Brittany Carpenter

Some kids went to the beach for March break. Others went skiing. But Brittany Carpenter? She pounded the pavement in Nanaimo to collect more than 300 signatures to present to Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative James Lunney to help him change his mind on voting against a bill that would prevent shark fins from endangered species being imported to Canada.

Carpenter, 15, a Grade 9 student at Wellington Secondary, said the topic of shark finning and how it will affect her generation in the future disturbed her enough to take action against the practice and lax Canadian laws on fin imports.

She said she hoped her petition and its 352 signatures would encourage Lunney to vote in favour of Bill C-380, a private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Fin Donnelly, to ban the importation of shark fins from protected species. The second reading of the bill is scheduled for Wednesday (March 27).

“Some shark species could be gone in the next 10 years,” said Carpenter. “I want to fight for them, for the oceans and for my future, too.”

On March 14, the United Nation’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species added five shark species to its protected list — scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads, porbeagle and oceanic white tips sharks. Those species join the great white, basking and whale sharks, the first three shark species to make the list.

In an investigation performed last October by the Vancouver Animal Defence League, which purchased more than $2,000 worth of shark fins in Vancouver and Richmond and had DNA analysis performed to determine the species, shark fin products found on shelves included those of porbeagle, scalloped and great hammerheads.

CITES lists species which may become threatened with extinction unless trade is closely controlled.

“Those inclusions on the protected list are huge, they change everything,” said Marley Daviduk, a Nanaimo resident and member of the defence league. “We know those shark species are now protected, but we also know they will still be coming into Canada in the form of shark fins, which will be illegal. I think it’s obvious that Canada must have laws that prevents the importation of fins from protected species.”

UN protection will come into effect in 18 months.

Canada banned the practice of shark finning in its waters in 1994, though it is estimated that hundreds of kilograms of fins from nations that still permit the activity arrive on Canadian shores most days. The dried fins are allowed through because there is no way of determining which species they came from.

Lunney, who arrived in Nanaimo from Ottawa one day after a busy federal budget announcement on Thursday, drove straight to his constituency office from the airport to meet with Carpenter.

He accepted her petition and promised he would help draft it into an official format so he could present it in the House of Commons, but advised Carpenter he would not support Bill C-380.

“Bill C-380 has good intentions, but it is trying to amend the Fish Inspection Act, which has been repealed, it’s no longer valid, so this bill will not accomplish what you want it to accomplish,” Lunney explained to Carpenter during a 20-minute meeting. “Our government dislikes shark finning as much as anybody, it’s a terrible practice, but we are working with our international partners to make sure we find an effective way to put a stop to this.”

Lunney added it would be difficult to impose a ban on shark imports entirely, noting sharks are part of a legal fishery in many countries, including a budding spiny dogfish industry in B.C. waters.

The MP, however, encouraged Carpenter to follow her beliefs and to continue trying to raise awareness and make a difference. He also advised her that her petition will become one of permanent record in the House, and that she can continue to add names to it.

“This is not a failed effort,” said Lunney.

Carpenter, who said she has been fascinated by sharks from the age of eight years old, said she was disappointed but will keep at it.

“I didn’t accomplish what I wanted, I wanted him to change his mind, so I’m a little disappointed,” she said after the meeting. “But I’ll keep trying.”

It is estimated that about 100 million sharks are caught or finned annually, which has led to the decline in shark populations by about 90 per cent. Scientists say taking an apex predator out of the ocean’s ecosystem will have a serious negative effect on the health of the oceans and fisheries.