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Shark fin-ished: Senate moves to ban import, export of controversial product

Last Updated Jun 5, 2019 at 9:16 am MDT

FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2010, file photo, Joe Chan, chief chef of Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine in Hong Kong prepares shark fin for cooking. Shark fins are most often used in a soup considered a delicacy in Asia. Environmentalists and animal advocates have long blamed the soup for the decline of some shark species. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

After years of failed attempts to ban shark fin imports, advocates could be celebrating new legislation as early as this week thanks to the Senate.

Last year alone, Canada imported more than $3.2 million worth of the controversial product which is tied to brutal harvesting practices, as Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly explains.

“Shark finning is the horrific practice of cutting the fins from living sharks and discarding the remainder of the shark at sea. The sharks then drown, starve to death or are eaten alive by other fish. It is a brutal fishing practice,” he told Parliament.

Donnelly has been passionately championing a ban for the last eight years. The most recent bill before the House of Commons, Bill S-238, was introduced by Nova Scotian MP Michael McDonald in 2017.

Five similar attempts have already failed before the house, and with only three weeks before Parliament wraps for the summer, it was beginning to look a lot like S-238 would follow suit.

That’s when Senator Peter Harder stepped in to enshrine the intent of the bill in a much larger piece of proposed legislation that could be approved as early as this week.

Once passed by the Senate, Bill C-68 will then be go back to the House of Commons, where the additions relating to the shark fin ban would need to be approved.

In a committee meeting on May 27th, members discussed the differences between to the two bills and agreed there was very little discrepancy between the government Senate bill and the private members bill before the house committee.

But there are still some limits to what is covered under C-68. Only the importing and exporting of fins and parts of fins is banned.

Not enough, say some

Some activists want to see legislation go further and ban all economic activity related to the trade of shark fins and shark product.

Whole sharks and sharks meat could conceivably still pass through our borders and the sale of shark fin products, including shark fin soup, is not covered by the legislation.

One change to the bill in the Senate is the dropping of the regulation or banning of shark fin “derivatives” used in some powdered collagen, make-up and vaccines.

Still, Paul Gillis, director general of strategic policy at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the committee the legislation would be among the toughest in the world.

“I think that the policy intent of Bill S-238 has been adopted in Bill C-68, and that Canada now has among the best practices when it comes to deterring shark finning,” he said.

The intent of the bill is to stop shark fins from entering the country to reduce the impact of “shark finning” so the Canadian Border Service Agency and Environment Canada would enforce the the law at points of entry.

Donnelly took the time to thank the many activists, including the late Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, who brought awareness to the issue in his hit documentary film, Sharkwater. Steward died in a scuba diving accident while filming the sequel, Sharkwater: Extinction.

“There was HSI Canada, Oceana, Rob Stewart, and his parents certainly, just to name a few. As well, many municipalities across the country have also implemented shark-fin bans,” he said.

“I think what it comes down to is that we have to hope that Bill C-68 gets out of the Senate and comes back to the lower house and gets royal assent before the House rises next month. That’s where we’re at.”