Though Canada passed a ban on shark finning at sea in 1994, legal battles continue between municipal governments and local businesses, who are divided on the sale, possession, and consumption of shark fins.
Since Rob Stewart’s debut film, Sharkwater, hit theatres around the world in 2006, hundreds of shark conservation groups led pro-ban movements around the world. Today, nearly 100 countries have shark fin bans.
The centre of the shark fin trade is in Hong Kong, where 112 companies signed corporate responsibility measures to ban shark fin consumption. "We show businesses there is also value, in other words loyal customers, if they are more aligned with consumer values," Shark Truth founder Claudia Li told The Dominion.
Canada has become an important battleground for this issue. The Ontario Superior Court overruled Toronto’s shark fin ban following a challenge from the Fair and Responsible Governance Alliance, a group opposed to the ban, particularly where it prohibits the consumption of shark fins. The final decision whether to appeal the Ontario Supreme Court ruling was made in February 2013. “There’s so much support for the ban, eventually [opposition to] it will be overcome,” says Stewart, whose new film, Revolution, opened on Earth Day 2013.
Canadians, including those in the Chinese community as well as fishermen, have expressed support for an import ban. In a recent poll conducted by BC MP Fin Donnelly's office, 76 per cent of Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking respondents supported the call for an import ban. Support was garnered from 84 per cent of all other respondents.
Claudia Li of Shark Truth, a leading conservation organization in Canada, is a first-generation Chinese-Canadian. “Our work is basically conservation and cultural change. We are working towards a tri-city ban. There hasn’t been much opposition in Vancouver, because we started work three to four years before legislation was introduced. When we bombard people with science and facts they don’t feel they take ownership of that change. When you approach their values they feel they can make a difference,” Li said.
Sharks are apex predators, whose extinction threatens biodiversity, especially coral reef ecosystems, home to 25% of all ocean life.
Nonprofit organization Shark Fin Free Calgary drafted two petitions, to ban the importation of shark fins into Canada and to amend fishing regulations. “Five board members and half a dozen volunteers for a city of a million have received nearly 12,000 petition signatures,” said Ingrid Kuenzel, the organization's founder.
During the last leg of the bylaw readings in Calgary on January 28, 2013, Alderman Druh Farrell, who presides over Chinatown, led the vote to pass a referral to conduct further community consultation. Alderman Brian Pincott said, “The fact that sharks are considered by CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species), which they weren’t ten years ago, has been attributed primarily to one practice, and that is the practice of shark finning. Municipalities showed leadership on smoking, saying we can’t do this anymore. Then, eventually, other levels of government followed suit. I think we need to show leadership on this.”
“It’s not about eating or not eating. The issue is about the misinformation. That’s why we will have a campaign later on, and talk about the product itself and how much we have engaged with policymakers,” said Ken Lee, president of the Calgary Chinese Merchant’s Association. “We don’t want negative feelings between one culture group and another. We need meaningful dialogue.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told the CBC that the Alberta legislature would be more competent than Ontario in securing a ban. “I remain relentlessly hopeful; Calgary has approved this bylaw in principle,” Nenshi said at a city council meeting.
Canada's shark fisheries are limited to two primary species. The spiny dogfish is harvested on the West coast, and the porbeagle shark on the East coast. BC MPs Fin Donnelly and Elizabeth May are the foremost supporters of an import ban. Shark Truth founder Li said, “We need to have support on all levels of government... People need information to support this legislation.”
On January 17, 2013, members of the Coalition for Transparency and Accountable Governance (CTAG), a group from Calgary's Chinese community opposed to the city's proposed shark fin ban, publicly presented their progress on reaching a wider consensus. According to CTAG, the previous bylaw to ban the possession, sale, and consumption of shark fins in Calgary had been passed “without prior and proper consultation with the affected citizens.”
“If you only ban the fin, people will still catch the shark,” said Phillip, a Calgary Chinatown merchant.
Regardless, those pushing for a total ban remain steadfast. “One third of the world can’t police their oceans," said Shark Fin Free Calgary's Kuenzel. "Bans reduce demand. Bans work.”