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Richmond considers shark fin ban

City council is probing a ban on shark fins after an activist Monday challenged Richmond to follow Toronto's lead.

"I'm hoping to start the ball rolling towards having a complete outright ban of shark fins in Richmond: possession, serving of shark fin soup as well as trading in shark fins," said Anthony Marr.

Many species are endangered due to the killing of tens of millions of sharks each year for their fins. The practice feeds those with an appetite for shark fin soup—a delicacy symbolizing wealth and health, and traditionally served at Chinese banquets.

Richmond's civic politicians agreed to consider a ban, asking staff to research what other cities have done and offer a report by year's end. Mayor Malcolm Brodie said that's when NDP MP Fin Donnelly expects a resolution to his proposed legislation banning importation of shark fins in Canada.

"That will help us to know what we're doing as well," said Brodie.

Donnelly has called the mass killing of sharks for their fins an "international marine conservation crisis" that requires immediate action.

Although council's referral motion was unanimous, only Coun. Harold Steves declared his early support for a ban.

Coun. Chak Au previously told The Review he favoured education, rather than a ban. But Marr, whose activist group is Heal Our Planet Earth, said that approach—used by another advocacy group, Shark Truth—isn't making a sufficient impact.

"They just want to soft-pedal the Chinese community," he said. "The time frame is extremely short. Sharks just don't have the time for the slow, soft approach. We have to take action."

Toronto's ban, on the possession, sale and consumption of shark fin products, goes into effect Sept. 1, imposing fines of $5,000 for a first offence, $25,000 for a second conviction and $100,000 for subsequent ones. Six other Ontario cities have also agreed to bans.

In Metro Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Moody and the City of North Vancouver have also banned possession and use of shark fins, and Burnaby—after a recent presentation by Marr—is mulling the idea.

Marr, president and founder of the environmental group Heal Our Planet Earth, hopes Richmond, Vancouver and Burnaby will be among the first cities in B.C. to ban shark fins.

"It's cruel. The analogy is if some aliens abducted you, cut off your four limbs and dumped you back onto the road. That's what we do to the sharks, by cutting off their fins and dumping them back into the water," said Marr.

According to ocean conservation group Oceana, 50 of the 307 shark species in the world are vulnerable or endangered, and Marr said it's impossible for shark fin consumers to know what poached products they're buying. He noted Canada has laws forbidding importation and sale of endangered species.

"Richmond right now is in violation of Canadian law," he said.

Meanwhile Shark Truth continues its education work in the hopes of changing attitudes and reducing consumer demand for shark fins.

"In these past three years, we've given opportunities for the community of Chinese descent to take action and to stop shark fin products, and they have," said founder Claudia Li in a statement Monday.

"We've seen fundamental change in our community. People no longer want to serve shark fin because they now know it doesn't match their values. Because of this, businesses serving shark fin are also beginning to take it off the menu and also showing an increased interest in seafood sustainability."

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