09/09/2011 06:39 EDT | Updated 11/09/2011 05:12 EST

Shark-fin ban debated at city committee

A Toronto city committee considering a bylaw banning shark fin got an earful on Friday from both supporters and opponents of the proposal.

The licensing and standards committee was packed Friday as dozens of groups, many from Toronto's Chinese community, weighed in on the proposed ban.

Shark finning involves severing the sharks' fins and throwing their still-living bodies back into the water. Groups like Oceana and WildAid say up to 73-million sharks a year are killed, primarily for their fins.

Shark fin soup, however, is a fixture at Chinese wedding banquets and other significant cultural events. Even small grocery stores in Chinatown sell canned shark fin soup.

Restaurateur David Tsang told the committee the banning of shark fin is the equivalent of banning part of Chinese culture.

Many in Toronto's Chinese community said a municipal ban will hurt Toronto businesses while still doing little to curtail consumption of shark fin.

"People may go across the street to the City of Markham to have a banquet so they are not losing one dish...they are losing 50 tables at a banquet," said Barbara Chiu with the Toronto Chinese Business Association.

The City of Brantford became the first city in Ontario to ban shark fin. Mississauga looked at a similar ban but decided it didn't have the authority to enforce such a ban.

Toronto documentary maker Rob Stewart's graphic film Sharkwater showed the manner in which shark fins were harvested. He said Toronto needs to take the lead to protect the animals.

Seven-year-old Kassidy Eagleson was also there to support the ban. She arrived at the committee with her mother Suzanne and a petition with the signatures of 700 students at her school asking for the ban.

In the end the committee referred the issue to the executive director of municipal licensing and standards, who will write up a proposed bylaw and report back to the committee. Councillors would then review the bylaw, likely in November.