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Shark fin soup ban pitched by Victoria councillor

A pricey Chinese delicacy – shark fin soup – is becoming a hot-button issue among city councils across B.C., as environmental groups seek to change provincial and national laws to ban the importation of shark fins.

“This is something I championed because of my passion for animal welfare environmental issues,” said Victoria city councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

She brought Bill C-380, a proposed federal bill banning shark fin importation, to Victoria council in February and followed up with visits to several Chinese restaurants to bring up issue’s surrounding the welfare of the animals and the impact on the world’s ecosystems of killing upwards of 17 million sharks per year.

Saanich council was the latest municipality to throw it’s support behind the cause after Victoria became the first in the Capital Regional District to make the motion to support a federal ban.

The recommendation to support the ban was brought forward by their 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.”

Georgina Wong, a parter at Don Mee, a Chinese seafood restaurant in Chinatown, made the transition in May and no longer accepts orders for shark fin soup.

“I watched the video documentary (on shark finning) and now I know,” said restaurant partner Georgina Wong. “It is good to be supportive.”

She is unsure as to the effect it has had on her restaurant bottom line, they only served it during banquets and did not carry it has a menu item, but she has seen little change in her business thus far and is prepared to move forward without it.

“It was not a hard decision for us,” she said. “a lot of younger people come (here) to book and ask not to have it,” she said.

Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy by some Asian cultures and usually served at events including celebrations, weddings and birthdays. One bowl can cost upwards of $200.

“I am happy that it is rarely served but would be happy when it is not served at all,” Thornton-Joe said.

“Unless there are changes in finning, leaving a (finned) shark in the water is atrocious.”

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.

– with files from Arnold Lim

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