By A.Gorton, Citizen Journalist
Four Central Saanich council members, including Mayor Alastair Bryson, voted against supporting legislation that would help protect sharks from the brutal practice of “shark finning”.
The practice of shark finning is violent and wasteful-where sharks are caught for the sole purpose of slicing off their fin. After the fin has been harvested, their bleeding carcass is thrown back into the ocean, in many cases still alive, where they usually drown or die of starvation. The demand for shark fin comes mainly from Hong Kong, where shark fin is viewed as a delicacy, commonly found in the Chinese dish ‘shark fin soup’. One bowl can cost anywhere from 50.00 to 3,000.00 Canadian dollars.
“With up to 75 million sharks being killed each year in the trade, shark finning represents the largest conservation challenge facing a top predator in the world,” said Rob Sinclair, Executive Director of Wild Aid Canada.
For years environmental groups have been advocating for stricter rules for shark harvesting- especially given the shark’s delicate relationship with the earth’s oxygen supply. Sharks are one of the ocean’s top predators and their rapid loss is directly linked to climate change .
Sharks play a critical role in protecting plankton levels, which is a major source of the earth’s oxygen supply. They do so by consuming plankton-eating fish. Without sharks, plankton can dip to dangerously low levels, resulting in less available oxygen for humans.
“The shark populations on this planet’s oceans are declining so rapidly- that it constitutes an emergency,” states Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is calling for a ban on the possession and trade of shark fins in Canada.
Alisa Preston, PADI Master Instructor representing the local diving community in Victoria, BC, collected thousands of names on a petition to stop shark finning. “It is wonderful to see our initiative being translated into proposed legislation. We thank Elizabeth and the Green Party for being so responsive to the concerns of local people and for standing up for sharks.”
Despite the current lack of federal legislation, some smaller communities have decided to take action locally. In October 2011, Toronto City Council joined four other Ontario cities in banning the sale of shark fin products. The motion overwhelmingly passed 38-4. Some critics have argued that imposing a ban in Toronto will not end the problem, when surrounding areas do not have the same regulations. They believe that to be effective, the federal government needs to impose a national ban on the importation and consumption of shark fin.
Those requests were acknowledged by New Democrat MP Fin Donnelly who has introduced private member’s Bill C-380 in the House of Commons, that would make the importation of shark fin illegal and prohibit any attempt to bring shark fin into the country. “The practice of shark finning is decimating the global shark populations and is putting our ocean ecosystems at risk,” said Donnelly. “Canada has an opportunity to do the right thing by stopping this destructive practice and enacting an import ban right away.”
In September 2010, Donnelly’s office commissioned Mustel Group to poll 500 residents of British Columbia. The results show that 83.4% of people are opposed to the importation of shark fins. Overall, the bill has seen widespread support, with some minor opposition coming from the restaurant industry fearing sales will be impacted.
As local governments across Canada increasingly support Bill C-380, Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin asked nearby councils to also join the movement. His letter states, “Victoria Council recently passed a motion urging all Federal Parties in the House of Commons to support Bill C-380. On behalf of Victoria City Council, I ask that you consider passing a similar motion. Efforts to prohibit the importation of shark fins in Canada and to prohibit the practice of shark finning are long overdue. Bill C-380 addresses the deepening concerns around the treatment of sharks and the devastating impact of shark finning on shark populations and the environment.”
When Central Saanich Council received Mayor Fortin’s request, Councillor Zeb King introduced a motion in favor of Bill C-380. King’s motion stated “That Council join the City of Victoria Council in urging Federal parties in the House of Commons to support Bill C-380… the purpose of which is to prohibit the importation of shark fins in Canada and the practice of shark finning.”
Councillor King’s motion found support with fellow Councillors Adam Olsen and Carl Jensen – but was eventually defeated by Mayor Alastair Bryson and Councillors Terry Siklenka, John Garrison and Cathie Ounsted. Mayor Bryson and Councillor Jensen did not respond to requests for comment.
At this time, Central Saanich is the only municipality within the CRD that has opposed supporting legislation to protect sharks.