Speech on Shark Fin Import Ban, first hour of debate (C-380)

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to begin debate on second reading of Bill C-380, which would amend the Fish Inspection Act by legally banning the importation of shark fins, not attached to the rest of the shark, to Canada. It would also amend the Fisheries Act by enshrining in legislation Canada's current prohibition on shark finning.

My bill seeks to address a conservation crisis that is happening in oceans around the world. Right now, we are witnessing the rapid decline of sharks due to the demand for their fins. Up to 73 million sharks are being killed each year, primarily for their fins. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over one-third of all shark species are currently threatened with extinction.

Sharks are being finned. The practice of finning is brutal. If I could show an image of a shark getting its fins cut off before being dumped back into the ocean, people would be horrified. Let me describe how sharks are caught and killed. Long lines, often 85 kilometres or so long, are placed in the ocean. These lines have multiple hooks, which indiscriminately catch sea creatures such as sharks, turtles, swordfish, tuna and other big fish. Sharks are hauled into the fishing vessel. Some are dead, but many are still alive. Once they are in the boat, the fins are cut off the shark and its body is dumped back into the ocean. It is left to die a slow and painful death as it sinks helplessly to the bottom of the ocean.

This is not only unethical, but it is a terribly wasteful practice. Scientists estimate that in just a few short decades some regional shark populations will have declined by over 95%. Experts also predict that if current trends continue, up to 20 shark species could become functionally extinct by 2017. That is only four years from now.

Sharks have long life cycles and are slow to reproduce. They predate dinosaurs. They are apex predators and play a critical role in maintaining the health and balance of our ocean ecosystems. For these reasons, sharks cannot sustain the intense fishing practices they are under. Humans are causing irrevocable harm to our marine ecosystems by continuing to fish sharks into extinction. The consequences of not addressing this problem will significantly and permanently harm the health of our oceans. As parliamentarians, we must consider how Canada can play a positive role in this global conservation crisis.

I propose that Canada adopt an importation ban on shark fins, as it is a practical and effective way for Canada to help curtail the illegal global shark fin trade. The primary reason for the rapid decline of sharks in our oceans is the demand for their fins. Unfortunately, shark finning has become a prevalent practice in various parts of the world. While some countries have banned shark finning, global demand for shark fin continues to drive illegal, unreported and unregulated shark fisheries. On average, shark fins sell for $400 per kilogram, while shark meat is worth about 50¢ a kilogram. Consequently, a highly profitable, underground shark fin market has emerged, which exploits threatened and endangered shark species to maximize profits. Organized crime is very much involved with the sale of shark fin around the world.

Canada imports, on average, just over 100 tonnes of shark fin a year. Some consumers of shark fin soup falsely believe only shark fins from properly regulated and well-managed fisheries are allowed into the country. This is simply not the case. The fact is that there is no quick and easy way to verify whether imported shark fins came from a sustainable or humane shark fishery. In fact, most do not. It has been proven that fins of threatened and endangered sharks are being sold in Canada today.

Last year, CTV News and the Vancouver Animal Defense League purchased dried shark fins from various shops in the Lower Mainland and had the DNA tested by a lab at the University of Guelph. Of the 59 samples tested, it was determined that 76% of those fins came from sharks listed as threatened or endangered by the IUCN. In fact, 10% of the samples came from scalloped hammerhead sharks, which the IUCN lists as endangered. These hammerheads are also listed under appendix 3 of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This is the international treaty intended to protect species from overexploitation.

As a member of CITES, Canada is asked to assist in controlling the trade of these sharks, but it is clear that we are not living up to our commitment. Despite being a signatory to CITES, Canada is contributing to the global trade of illegal shark fins by continuing to import fins indiscriminately. This is a black eye on our reputation as a world leader in ocean conservation and stewardship.

It is also important to note that existing international regulations and protocols have not demonstrated that they can swiftly respond to the urgent threats facing overexploited shark populations. Proposals to strengthen finning bans and to add more shark species to endangered species lists are failing to gain consensus due to member countries' competing self-interests. Even Canada has been criticized for being the only country to oppose listing porbeagle sharks as endangered at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

It is clear that current regulations are not enough to protect sharks from being fished to extinction for their fins. The best way to put an end to this horrific practice is to legislate a ban on the importation of shark fins to Canada. By adopting an import ban, Canada would be joining a worldwide conservation movement to protect sharks. Other countries with shark fin bans include the Bahamas, Chile, Ecuador, Fiji and Guam, as well as the U.S. states of California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington.

Across Asia, there are numerous examples of the growing movement to protect sharks. The Chinese government recently announced it would stop serving shark fin soup at official banquets. Prestigious restaurants and hotels across Asia have removed shark fin soup from their menus, including major high-end hotel chains such as Peninsula, Shangri-La, the Marriott and the Sheraton. Cathay Pacific Airways halted its role in the shark fin trade when it decided to stop transporting shipments of shark fin and other shark products.

In Canada, efforts to protect sharks have gained significant momentum over the past few years. Growing numbers of Chinese restaurants have taken sharp fin soup off their menus, including Floata Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver, one of the largest Chinese restaurants in the country. However, some restaurant owners, while recognizing the harmful impact of shark fin soup, feel that if they take it off their menus their customers will take their business elsewhere. This is the case for Veronica Kwan, owner of Kam Fung Chinese Restaurant in Brossard, Quebec. She wrote to members of Parliament urging them to support Bill C-380. She writes:

A ban on the import of shark fins to Canada would level the playing field for business owners such as myself who want to do what it is ethically and ecologically responsible while still remaining commercially competitive.

Increased awareness and action to protect sharks is due in part to grassroots organizations such as Shark Truth, which is fostering change through positive campaigns such as its Happy Hearts Love Sharks wedding contest, which encourages couples to go fin free at wedding banquets. Organizations such as the Humane Society International-Canada, WildAid Canada and United Conservationists have also raised national awareness of the urgent need to protect sharks.

I must also highlight the work of Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, whose 2007 film, Sharkwater, opened the eyes of millions of people to the exploitation of sharks through finning and the rampant corruption present in the shark fin trade. Through stunning original footage, Stewart documents how even sharks in marine reserves are targeted by poachers. His film has reached large audiences in Canada and around the world and is in part responsible for increased awareness of the realities of shark finning.

Numerous municipalities in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have responded to the growing public awareness of threats to sharks by adopting bans on shark fin, and many more cities across the country are considering similar bans. Last year the Union of British Columbia Municipalities passed a near unanimous resolution calling on the federal government to ban the import of shark fins to Canada. Cities across Canada are taking action to protect sharks and they are calling on the federal government to do the same.

Before drafting my bill, I consulted with Chinese Canadian business associations, restaurant owners and individuals, as well as academics, elected representatives from all levels of government, environmental organizations and the wider public. I had polling done in English, Chinese, Cantonese and Mandarin in British Columbia, which found that 76% of Chinese-speaking respondents and over 83% of English-speaking respondents support a federal import ban on shark fins.

It is clear that there is widespread support for the federal government to ban the importation of shark fins to Canada. Tens of thousands of Canadians have signed petitions and written to their members of Parliament urging them to support Bill C-380. I have heard from many members that they have received calls and emails, especially in the last few weeks. I want to thank Canadians for writing and contacting their members to let them know how important this issue is.

I have introduced many of these petitions in the House of Commons and I can tell my colleagues that they come from all corners of this country. Children are particularly passionate about shark conservation and I have been amazed by their enthusiasm to create change. In my riding, a class of grade one students and their teacher from Moody Elementary made a great presentation to Port Moody city council in support of a municipal ban on shark fin. They researched the environmental impact of shark finning and were excited to share their learning with the council and the public.

I must say it was quite moving when these young people came into council chambers with their very organized messages and signs. They gave a very compelling presentation and I have never seen members of a council react so quickly. They wanted to pass a ban that night. It took a while in Port Moody, but it became the first municipality in British Columbia to pass a ban on shark fin. That caused a chain reaction with the other municipalities in British Columbia, which is now the province that has the most municipal bans in Canada.

The facts before us today make the case that Canada must take immediate action to address the crisis of rapidly declining shark populations. We are facing the likely extinction of shark species around the globe, largely due to the demand for their highly valued fins. Canada must stop indiscriminately importing fins from endangered and threatened sharks. We must put an end to our role in the illegal global shark fin trade.

I ask all members to support Bill C-380 at second reading so it can be studied further at committee.