Richmond council sidesteps shark fin debate
Regulating shark fins should be left to the federal government, not cities, senior staff told council at Richmond City Hall this week.
"There has been much media attention around the issue of prohibiting the sale and distribution of shark fins and shark fin food products. Matters relating to shark finning and shark fin food products, however, are within federal rather than municipal jurisdiction," said Glenn McLaughlin and May Leung in a report delivered Monday at city hall.
With that, Richmond council followed the lead of Burnaby and Delta and chose not to pursue a shark fin bylaw.
An Ontario court's recent decision to overturn a shark fin ban in Toronto "reinforces staff's opinion on the issue of jurisdiction," the report says, adding a bylaw regulating the possession, consumption or sale of shark fin is not recommended.
The report from McLaughlin, the city's chief licence inspector, and Leung, the city's solicitor, also noted a municipal bylaw would be difficult to enforce, citing a lack of authority to seize fins for analysis and verification, and a lack of expertise in identifying fins and their origin.
Last summer, the Vancouver Animal Defense League urged council to ban the Asian delicacy used in soup. Since then, some Metro Vancouver municipalities have instituted bans, while others have opted to avoid legislation.
In the Richmond report, officials noted over 400 people submitted comments to city hall in support of a ban, while the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association filed a petition with 1,130 signatures opposing a ban.
Staff told council Monday they plan to work with the association—led by Richmond restaurateur and shark fin apologist David Chung—to produce a brochure "dealing with consumption of shark fins."
Coun. Harold Steves said he'd like to see a ban on shark fin imports, and the promotion of B.C.'s own shark: the dogfish. The dogfish is the most common shark species found in B.C. waters.
"We could have a major business here in British Columbia," he said. "I think it's a compromise that we could do, and British Columbians would benefit from it."
In Ottawa, MP Fin Donnelly is proposing legislation that would ban shark fin imports in Canada and enshrine in legislation Canada's ban on shark finning. Further debate on his private member's bill, C-380, is scheduled for March 22. A vote on second reading is expected March 27.
"At this point I'm still feeling confident. I anticipate it will be a close vote," he said Monday.
Up to 73 million sharks are being killed each year—most for their fins alone—a practise threatening one-third of all shark species with extinction, said Donnelly. Each year Canada imports an average of 100 tonnes of shark fins without an easy method of determining their origin.
But Conservative government MPs gave Donnelly's bill a cool reception in a House of Commons debate Feb. 11.
"Canada believes that working through regional fisheries management organizations to ensure strong management and enforcement practises globally is the most effective way to prevent unsustainable shark fishing practices, such as finning," said MP Randy Kamp, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
"A complete trade ban would penalize responsible legitimate fishing practices without addressing overfishing practices or improving global fisheries management."
Last fall Richmond Conservative MP Alice Wong spoke against the need for further legislation by sitting down to a bowl of shark fin soup at the Jade Seafood Restaurant on Alexandra Road.
Nonetheless, Donnelly—an NDP MP who represents New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody—hopes to convince enough Conservative backbenchers to vote with opposition parties and advance the bill for further study.
In the meantime, Donnelly said cities can play a role. Some municipalities, like Richmond, are nervous about drafting a bylaw in the wake of a judge overturning Toronto's shark fin bylaw, he acknowledged, but he said bylaws such as Port Moody's are more sound.
"I don't think they'll have any problem with any kind of legal challenge," he said. "When you compare it to other issues, one that comes to mind is the pesticide issue…cities often lead the charge because they're the closet level of government to the people.