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JIM VIBERT: Parliament Hill bill to save sharks gets second reading

In this Jan. 15, 2019 photo provided by Juan Oliphant, Ocean Ramsey, a shark researcher and advocate, swims with a large great white shark off the shore of Oahu. Fred Whoriskey, executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network at Dalhousie University, also said the population of white sharks in the North Atlantic is rebounding and may eventually once again see predators of comparable size.
In this Jan. 15, 2019 photo provided by Juan Oliphant, Ocean Ramsey, a shark researcher and advocate, swims with a large great white shark off the shore of Oahu. A bill to ban imported shark fins passed second reading in the House of Commons. - Contributed

There was shocking news from Parliament Hill this week. A bill to ban imported shark fins passed second reading in the Commons.

The shock, for anyone familiar with the barbaric practice of shark finning and its insidious role in pushing ever more shark species to the edge of extinction, is that Canada hasn’t banned shark fin imports before now.

Canada, in fact, has the ugly distinction of being one of the largest importers of shark fins outside of Asia, and fin imports into Canada have been increasing in recent years.

Shark finning is the practice of hacking the fins from live sharks and dumping the disabled animal at sea. The finless shark, unable to move, drowns or bleeds to death. Finning uses about two per cent of the shark and wastes the rest. The practice has been effectively outlawed in Canadian waters for a quarter of a century.

Each year, more than 100 million sharks are killed to satisfy global demand for shark fin soup. The practice of shark finning has ravaged shark populations and is unspeakably cruel, said the bill’s sponsor, Nova Scotia Sen. Michael MacDonald.

As inhumane as shark finning is, MacDonald will tell you that conservation is the most important reason to get the bill passed before the Commons recesses for the summer and the fall election, killing his bill and delaying action on a ban indefinitely.

The bill’s future rests with the Liberals, who claim to support its intentions but some, like Central Nova’s Sean Fraser, made noises that suggest they are nervous about doing the right thing.

“(T)he proposed amendments do not discriminate between sustainably harvested sharks and shark products, and shark fins that are the product of shark finning,” Fraser said during debate on the bill this week.

Exactly. Because without scientific testing on each fin that distinction can’t be made, hence banning imports of shark fins that are not attached to a carcass is the only reliable way to ensure the products of shark finning or fins from threatened species do not enter Canada.

MacDonald’s bill is no impediment or threat to the ethical harvesting of, or trade in, non-threatened shark species, but Fraser worries the bill might be “inconsistent with Canada's international trade law obligations.”

Tough. Canada needs to step up to protect endangered sharks.

It’s taken MacDonald two years to shepherd his bill through the Senate, where it passed with support from all sides, and get it this close to law. The Liberal majority will determine if it passes in the Commons.

Sharks have been swimming the Earth’s oceans for 400 million years, predating the dinosaurs, but human exploitation has put many species at risk of extinction. As top predators, sharks play a vital role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems. When sharks are in trouble, so is the ocean eco-system — and sharks are in trouble.

All 14 of the shark species most targeted for the fin trade are at risk of extinction, and research shows that a sizable chunk of the shark fins in the Canadian market are not ethically harvested. DNA tests on shark fins sold in Vancouver found that 80 per cent were from threatened species and a federal study across several Canadian markets found that 25 to 30 per cent of fins were from sharks on the protected species list.

Globally, shark populations are plummeting. Populations of hammerheads, thresher sharks, great whites, and tiger sharks have declined by 65 to 90 per cent in recent decades. The International Union for Conservation of Nature found more than a quarter of the world’s 400-plus shark species are threatened with extinction.

Canadians are rightfully outraged by the unethical slaughter of elephants for ivory or of rhinoceros for their horns. Shark finning is no different.

Those worried that a ban may be culturally insensitive can relax. Asian nations are stepping up efforts to eliminate shark finning and support ethical shark harvesting and Asian Canadian communities and leaders support MacDonald’s bill.

The bill and the ban it would enact are tangible action from Canada to stop the decimation of shark populations and end inhumane harvesting of fins. A Tory senator did the work. All federal Liberals need to do is vote consistently with their conservationist rhetoric.

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