Activists confront restaurateur on shark fin stance

The battle over shark fin soup boiled over at a Richmond restaurant Wednesday, as animal rights activists challenged a restaurateur over his decision to keep the Chinese delicacy on his menu.

Marley Daviduk and Brooklyn Fowler of the Vancouver Animal Defense League confronted owner David Chung in the lobby of The Jade Seafood Restaurant in a heated lunchtime showdown. During the surprise meeting in front of invited reporters, Chung was asked to provide 10 fin samples from his restaurant kitchen to test for endangered species.

The activists left empty-handed.

"If he doesn't put forth samples, then he's obviously worried about what we're going to find," said Daviduk, who suggested one-third of shark species are endangered.

Other estimates vary, and Chung said without a definitive endangered list, a test wouldn't prove anything.

"We are not a lab," said Chung. "I don't want people to destroy my right to eat anything if it is not the truth."

Daviduk, who has also campaigned against fur, foie gras and the Canadian seal hunt, pointed to new data released by Pew Environment Group, which tested the DNA of shark fins in 14 cities in the U.S., finding—of those that could be identified—all were threatened or vulnerable species.

Daviduk said new estimates suggest 100 million sharks are dying each year because of shark fin soup, and a shark fin ban is needed now.

"There's not a species on the planet that can handle that kind of devastation, that kind of so-called harvesting. To take an animal just for their fins—because that's the most valuable part of the animal—that's a crime and it should be treated as such."

Chung, who is also president of the the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association, has been a vocal opponent of a fin ban—as being mulled by the City of Richmond.

Chung said just three shark species are facing extinction according to the CITES international agreement, also known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Conservation group Oceana, however, suggests 50 of 307 species are vulnerable or endangered.

But Chung said if the federal government finds reason to enact a ban on shark fins, he'll remove the soup from his menu.

"But it has to be proven," he said.

The Jade offers four types of shark fin soup on its dinner menu, ranging from $24 to $63, and it's a popular choice on banquet menus.

Chung has said he offers the soup because it's a tradition in the Chinese community he doesn't want to break—not because it's making him money.

"Tomorrow, if I take it off the menu, I won't cry, because it's not going to affect the business."

But activist Daviduk rejected the argument.

"I don't support any violent traditions, whether it's female genital mutilation in Africa, stoning to death of women in the Middle East or the Canadian seal slaughter. Just because that happens in Canada doesn't mean that's my tradition."

While Richmond considers a possible ban on the product, other cities have already enacted bylaws, including Toronto. The ban on the possession, sale and consumption of shark fin products in Canada's largest city goes into effect Sept. 1.

Last week, Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang said he plans to introduce a motion to work with Richmond and Burnaby to implement a simultaneous ban.

What's in that bowl of soup?

•Conservationists recently collected samples of shark fin soup in 14 U.S. cities, including Seattle. Scientists tested DNA and could identify the presence of shark in just 32 of 51 bowls of soup. Of those, six could not be linked to a particular species, but the rest were identified. Those identified were all threatened (one endangered) or vulnerable, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

•The bowls of soup cost up to $100 each.

•Stony Brook University in New York, the Field Museum in Chicago and Pew Environment Group in Washington, D.C. led the study.

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