May’s bill would end shark fin sales

SIDNEY, BC - Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, has tabled the first Green Party bill:  Bill C-417 An Act to amend the Fish Inspection Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (importation and labelling of shark).

May’s first Private Member’s Bill is designed to spell the end of the shark fin trade in Canada.  “This bill complements other anti-shark fin measures in Canada.  I am grateful for the support of other groups across the country who are also working on this issue,” said May.

Eleven US states have bans on shark fin products.  In Canada, bans are being instituted at the municipal level: Toronto, Mississauga, and Brantford, ON, have passed laws and Port Moody, BC, is in the process of drafting a bylaw.

“Currently, we have no idea where shark fin products come from; the trade is completely unregulated.  Because we don’t know how the vast majority of sharks die in the world, there is no way to regulate them.  By requiring the labelling of imported shark products with the country of harvest, we believe this legislation would essentially kill the trade,” said May.

In 1998, bans were instituted against the importation of bear gallbladders, elephant ivory, and rhino horns.  The Greens hope shark fins will be next.

“This bill, if fully implemented, will be the most far-reaching national legislation on shark fin in the western world,” said Rob Sinclair, Executive Director of WildAid Canada, who has been at the forefront of the Canadian campaign to stop shark finning.

Alisa Preston, PADI Master Instructor representing the local diving community in Victoria, BC, collected thousands of names on a petition to stop shark finning.  “It is wonderful to see our initiative being translated into proposed legislation.  We thank Elizabeth and the Green Party for being so responsive to the concerns of local people and for standing up for sharks.”

Despite the fact that almost a third of open-ocean shark species are currently threatened with extinction, over 73 million sharks are poached for their fins each year.  Sharks are a vital species in the food chain and, with each shark only producing one or two offspring per year, species are slow to recover from hunting.  Scientists have been ringing alarm bells for years about the precariousness of shark populations, some of which are experiencing a 99% decline.

Shark finning is a cruel and wasteful practice.  Struggling sharks have their fins brutally cut off and then are dumped overboard where, unable to swim, they either drown or starve to death.  The fins fetch a high price and are used to make soup and other food products. 

“Shark fins also contain a dangerous level of mercury and other heavy metals.  Stopping the trade of shark fins is not only good for the sharks, but also good for people,” said May. 

Bill C-417 amends the Fish Inspection Act to add a requirement that, if a person is importing shark or shark product, the country of harvest and the common name of the shark must be indicated, in writing, to an inspector. It also amends the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act to prohibit the sale or importation of shark and shark product unless it is prepackaged and labelled to show certain information, including a statement that it may be unfit for human consumption due to mercury contamination.

Debra Eindiguer