12/08/2011 01:22 EST | Updated 02/07/2012 05:12 EST

Shark Fin Imports Ban Targeted By Private Bill

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NDP MP Fin Donnelly is trying to stamp out the international trade of shark fins by proposing legislation that would ban their import to Canada.

The NDP's fisheries and oceans critic introduced a private member's bill Thursday in the House of Commons that would make the product's import illegal and prohibit any attempt to bring it into the country.

"If you want to get at shark finning, which is what many would understand as a very inhumane practice, then this [import ban] is one of the best ways to get at it," Donnelly said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Shark finning, which involves removing the fin from a living shark and then tossing its body back into the ocean to die, is already illegal in Canadian waters, but there is no law to prevent importation. However, some municipalities, including Toronto, have passed bylaws.

There have been calls on the federal government to implement a nationwide ban.

Shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese dish, is where demand for the product comes from, and Hong Kong is the country with the biggest appetite for shark fins, Donnelly said.

Canada is a small player on the world scene, importing around 77,000 kilograms of shark fins every year, he said.

"Canada can become a world leader in shark conservation and ocean stewardship by adopting legislation to protect sharks. Banning the trade of shark fin is our best hope at giving shark populations a chance to recover," he said.

Several species threatened

The trade is threatening a number of shark species and some will be at risk of extinction before the decade is over, he said. Between 26 million and 73 million shark fins are traded annually and shark populations simply can't recover because they are slow to reproduce, the British Columbia MP said.

The private member's bill seeks to amend the Fish Inspection Act and penalties would be administered under that law. If it succeeds and a ban is implemented, those in violation could face jail time or a fine of up to $100,000.

Donnelly said he consulted with various groups across the country about his bill, including Chinese business associations, and he launched a petition that has so far collected more than 3,000 signatures. He said the NDP has wide public support for the proposed ban and he hopes to find the same backing in the House of Commons.

He said he has been talking to Conservative MPs, some of whom have expressed interest in his bill.

"Whether they'll come out publicly and say that remains to be seen," he said.