Story of the year: Shark fin controversy circles Richmond
A first-term councillor called for calm in July, shortly after an animal rights activist made a pitch to city council to ban shark fins in Richmond.
“I am concerned that the shark fin debate will divide our community along racial and cultural lines,” said Coun. Chak Au at the time. “Things could get ugly in the next six months, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
Debate has indeed been fierce between those seeking to save sharks and those looking to uphold the tradition of shark fin soup. Swimming in the middle of it all was Richmond MP Alice Wong, who slurped the Chinese delicacy herself as a show of support for restaurateurs who want to keep in on their menus.
Such was the year of 2012: city hall stayed away from the dangerous waters of debate, but the shark fin issue never swam away.
City councils around Metro Vancouver have already banned shark fin in their communities. But cities like White Rock have little to lose. Just 2.5 per cent of its residents identified their first language as a Chinese dialect in the latest census, compared to 40 per cent in Richmond.
Officials at Richmond City Hall were waiting to hear the decision of an Ontario court, where a challenge was launched against the City of Toronto’s ban on the sale, possession and consumption of shark fins and shark fin food products.
That decision came Nov. 30, with the judge ruling Toronto acted above its powers, deeming the bylaw invalid. But an appeal is likely, and some observers believe it can be won if some concessions are made.
Still pushing for a Richmond ban is the Vancouver Animal Defense League, whose Anthony Marr made the first pitch to city council.
The league’s Marley Daviduk stole headlines when she squared off against David Chung, owner of The Jade Seafood Restaurant and also president of the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association.
She publicly challenged Chung to provide samples of fins from his restaurant to determine whether they’re from endangered species. Chung refused, but Daviduk pushed on anyway.
In early December she played a key role in an investigation of dried shark fins being sold in Richmond and Vancouver—a probe that found 76 per cent are from species that many believe are threatened or endangered.
But causing the biggest firestorm was Alice Wong. The Conservative MP for Richmond sat down to a bowl of shark fin soup at The Jade and proceeded to spoon it up for Chinese media.
The stunt, Wong later told The Richmond Review was her effort to “clarify the facts.” She said Canada already bans the practice of shark finning—harvesting fins by removing them and discarding the rest of the animal at sea.
“In Canada that is illegal. But we have no intention of making shark fin soup illegal.”
But activists say harvesters and importers face little accountability, and is thus impossible to determine what fins have been harvested legally. Many readers lambasted Wong in The Richmond Review letters pages and website.
The shark fin issue will undoubtedly continue to bare its teeth in the coming year—whether or not Richmond city council is willing to deal with it.