Burnaby council holds off on shark fin ban

Burnaby council followed a staff recommendation and decided against a ban on sales of shark fin in the city.

City hall does not have the authority to institute a ban nor the ability to enforce such a bylaw, a city staff report said.

Due to its high cost, shark fin soup is a symbol of wealth and prosperity in the Chinese community, and is often served at wedding banquets and other special occasions. But they are harvested cruelly, with the fins cut off before the rest of the shark is thrown back in the ocean while still alive.

All council members who spoke on the issue at the recent council meeting decried the practice with Coun. Sav Dhaliwal saying, "I believe this might be a little too quick on our part to give up on this." He suggested city staff continue to monitor the situation, particularly a potential appeal by the City of Toronto of a court decision striking down its shark fin ban.

If an appeal is successful, it might give other municipalities the jurisdiction to bring in their own bans, Dhaliwal said.

Coun. Dan Johnston said he wants to see what Toronto does but believes any such bans should take place at the federal and provincial level so there's a uniform law that applies across the province or nationwide.

Mayor Derek Corrigan noted that municipalities are not constitutionally recognized as an order of government and so does not have the power to bring in such bans.

And until Toronto appeals and is successful, "it's unwise for us to be spending public money to litigate something where we feel the chances of success are not good," Corrigan said. "I think staff are taking a conservative approach."

He agreed with staff's recommendation to lobby senior governments to take action as they have the power to do so.

Corrigan added that shark fin harvesters would be wise to come up with more humane practices and ways to utilize all of the shark.

"I think that if there was a humane process, one in which the whole fish was utilized, then I don't think it would be nearly so offensive to the public."

Anthony Marr who, with the Vancouver Animal Defence League asked council to join other cities in enacting such a ban, said he was "more disgusted than disappointed."

Marr believes the city's power to revoke business licences and impose fines should be adequate ability to enforce such a bylaw.

As for Toronto, Marr noted that their bylaw banned even simple possession, which is what caused it to lose the court challenge. Focusing a bylaw on the sale and trade of shark fin should be better able to survive a challenge.

Some species of shark are extremely endangered, he said, noting the hammerhead shark is more than 95 per cent gone and expected to be extinct by 2017 if nothing is done.

If shark species become extinct, anyone in a position to have made a difference "should be held partly responsible."

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