A pricey Chinese delicacy – shark fin soup – is becoming a hot-button issue among city councils in B.C., as environmental groups seek to change provincial and national laws to ban the importation of shark fins.
And Saanich council threw its support behind the cause Monday night.
“As a society we really have to step back and say, ‘Is that the way we really want to treat nature?’” asked Coun. Judy Brownoff.
The concerns being brought to light surround the welfare of the animals and the impact on the world’s ecosystems of killing upwards of 17 million sharks per year.
The recommendation to support the ban was brought forward by Saanich’s environmental advisory committee, after members were given a presentation by advocacy group Fin Free Victoria, made up mostly of Grade 7 students from Glenlyon Norfolk School.
“We’ve received a lot of support,” said Margaret McCullough, a science teacher at GNS and one of two teachers assisting the Fin Free Victoria student group.
In addition to approaching politicians, Fin Free Victoria has successfully lobbied a number of restaurants in Greater Victoria to stop serving shark fin soup.
“There were six or seven (restaurants) in Victoria, but they’ve all kind of jumped on board with this,” McCullough said. “(Our discussions with restaurants) weren’t about sharks or the issues. It was more about the business opportunity.”
Jackson Hong, owner of Sampan Chinese Seafood Restaurant in Saanich Centre, says he hadn’t sold a bowl of shark fin soup for a couple years before Fin Free Victoria approached him earlier this year to support an outright ban.
“I’m happy not selling them. I’m fin free,” Hong said.
While he said there are environmental reasons to support the ban, he also acknowledged there’s a benefit to business owners’ bottom line to not buy shark fins.
“The cost is high and not many people want them. We pay a few thousand dollars and wait for people to come and order them, it’s not worth doing that,” he said.
A bowl of shark fin soup can cost upwards of $200.
While Saanich council’s decision passed unanimously, Coun. Leif Wergeland voiced concern that addressing issues outside of municipal jurisdiction – from shark fin bans to oil tanker traffic – could “litter” council’s agenda.
“We’re all concerned. I just don’t know if they should be addressed in council chambers,” he said.
In Metro Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Moody and the City of North Vancouver have also banned possession and use of shark fins, and Burnaby is mulling the idea.
In Richmond, which has a large Chinese population, the debate is growing. City council there has agreed to consider a ban, which has restaurateurs up in arms.
Saanich council threw its support behind two recommendations which call on the provincial and federal governments to ban the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins. While it is currently illegal to fin sharks in Canada, it is not illegal to import shark fins into Canada.