Fin in the News: Shark finning bill tabled in House of Commons

Holly Lake, iPolitics, Feb. 19, 2019

Sharks don't have time to wait for a new Parliament to get its act together and put protections in place.

That was the message today as Bill S-238 was tabled in the House of Commons by New Democrat MP Fin Donnelly.

Since 2011, five private members' bills have been introduced that would have banned the trade in shark fins.

"In that time, over half a billion sharks have been butchered and killed for their fins," he told the House. "We cannot wait for another election. We must pass this legislation and end the destructive practice of shark finning."

This latest legislative attempt as was introduced in the Senate by Conservative Sen. Michael McDonald in April 2017, with Donnelly by his side. It passed with strong support and landed in the House last October. The bill would ban the importation and exportation of shark fins in Canada.

READ MORE: Shark finning bill passed unanimously by committee; moves on to Senate

Finning is a cruel practice that sees the fins of live sharks hacked off and the shark tossed back into the ocean, left to drown or bleed to death.

While Canada has banned the practice since 1994, fins can still be imported - and demand for them has been rising. In 2017, nearly 159,000 kilograms of fins were imported into this country - a 60-per-cent increase over the last five years. Most came from Hong Kong and China, and were likely from finning.

Outside of East Asia, Canada is the largest importer of fins in the world.

With a federal election expected in Oct. 21, Donnelly said the clock is ticking for this bill, which has been well-studied in the Senate.

"It is imperative that all members work together to ensure that Bill S-238 receives royal assent before the fall election," he said.

In addition to political support from across party lines, the bill has the backing of conservationists, marine scientists, animal welfare advocates and the family of Rob Stewart. The Canadian filmmaker and shark advocate brought the plight of sharks to the world's attention with his award-winning film Sharkwater.

A biologist and conservationist, Stewart was filming a followup movie to the 2006 documentarycalled Sharkwater Extinction, at the time of his death. The film was released last fall.

READ MORE: Rob Stewart's family calls for shark fin import ban on anniversary of his death

In a statement, Brian and Sandy Stewart said they are grateful to Donnelly and MacDonald for standing up for ocean conservation and carrying on the work their son started.

"Bill S-238 is an important step toward ending Canadian trade in shark fins. We urge the federal government and members of Parliament to listen to the overwhelming majority of Canadians who support ending the trade of shark fins in Canada."

More than 185,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking the government to pass bill and end Canada's involvement in the shark fin trade.

The Humane Society International/Canada has campaigned to end the trade for more than a decade. The organization estimates up to 100 million sharksare killed to satisfy global demand for their fins and their parts. That threatens one-third of open ocean sharks with extinction. Every single hour, more than 11,000 sharks are killed as part of the fin trade.



Dried shark fins for sale. (Photo: Iris Ho / HSI)

With many of the world's species of shark on the brink of extinction, the University of Guelph conducted DNA testing on shark fins being sold in Vancouver to determine what species they were. Of the 59 shark-fin samples collected, 76 per cent were from species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of vulnerable species.

The majority of them are used in shark fin soup. Although fins add no flavour to the soup, they are considered a delicacy by some Asian cultures. Over the last 50 years, the appetite for fins has led some populations of sharks to decline by more than 80 per cent.

In the Senate, committee members heard that sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they mature and reproduce more slowly than other species in the sea. It's estimated they're being caught 30-per-cent faster than their rate of reproduction. That kind of pressure makes it very difficult for them to recover, and yet they are vital to maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems. As an apex predator, sharks hold the oceans in balance.

"Some scientists believe that the rapid decline of sharks we're witnessing now could result in the complete rearrangement of entire marine ecosystems," Kim Elmslie, campaign director with Oceana Canada, told senators at committee last year.

In a statement, Dr. Dirk Steinke, a marine scientist at the University of Guelph, said given how critical this is, scientists are hoping Canada will take the necessary leadership in ending the shark trade.

"There is scientific consensus that sharks are among the most threatened wildlife worldwide, which makes this all the more disconcerting," he said.