03/27/2013 08:16 EDT | Updated 05/27/2013 05:12 EDT

Canada, Don't Waste This Chance to Ban Shark Fin Imports


We face an urgent crisis in our oceans, as tens of millions of sharks are disappearing every year. Thankfully the growing movement to protect sharks has reached a critical moment. This week Parliament will vote on second reading of Fin Donnelly's private member's Bill to ban the import of shark fins into Canada. This is a unique opportunity to stand as a country against the cruel and ecologically devastating practice of shark finning. It would be irresponsible to waste it.

Fishermen target sharks mainly for their high-value fins. The unsustainable and largely unregulated global fin trade fuels the practice of shark finning, which involves slicing off a shark's fins before throwing the rest of the animal back in the ocean, often while still alive. As top predators in our oceans, sharks play a vital role in maintaining a delicate balance in our marine ecosystems.

Even with 18 municipal shark fin bans in place in Canada and more on the way, Canada's current laws don't go nearly far enough in ensuring that our country doesn't contribute to this brutal practice and unsustainable trade.

The evidence is overwhelming. According to Statistics Canada, our country imported more than 106,000 kg of shark fins in 2012 alone. Recent DNA tests on samples of 59 shark fins purchased in markets around Vancouver found that 76 per cent of the fins came from species that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has identified as threatened or near threatened.

A recent national poll by Environics revealed that an overwhelming 81 per cent of Canadians support a shark fin import ban. Canadians don't get to vote directly on this issue, and so we are counting on our Members of Parliament to act on our behalf and move this Bill through Second Reading and into committee, where it can eventually be passed into law.

Cutting the fins off of sharks and throwing them back into the water to die slowly from suffocation, bleeding and predation is wrong and must be stopped, and driving some species of top ocean predators towards extinction is both dangerous and morally unacceptable. There are no effective limits on shark fin imports into Canada and there is a growing consensus that a federal shark fin import ban is desperately needed.

Yet some MPs are still saying they are on the fence about this bill, citing small differences of opinion about how it is written. What they need to realize is that those small differences can and should be raised at committee, where suggested changes can be fully discussed and implemented if necessary.

Let's be clear: A vote against the bill at this stage would be a vote against any further discussion on this urgent marine crisis issue, and a vote in favour of the shark finning industry.

Thanks to the leadership of environmentally responsible Members of Parliament, Canada is the only in the world with a pending federal bill to address shark fin imports as a means of reducing participation in the unsustainable shark fin trade. This bill is Canada's one chance to make our country a global leader in shark and ocean ecosystem preservation. Let's not squander it.

Shark Fins