Shark finning a disgusting practice

Alex Atamanenko sheds some light on Canada's shark policies.

Recently I had a chance to see the documentary Sharkwater and watched how sharks are caught, their fins are cut off and they are thrown back into the water. This practice is repulsive, immoral and is largely driven by an underground market controlled by organized crime that exploits threatened and endangered species to maximize profits.  To combat this barbaric practice, Bill C-380, An Act to Amend the Fish Inspection Act and the Fisheries Act was introduced by my colleague, Fin Donnelly, MP for Burnaby-Coquitlam on December 11, 2011.

Some elected members have suggested that Bill C-380 is unnecessary because Canada already has enough laws and that Canada bans the trade of shark products from species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) or the Species at Risk Act.

According to the Canadian branch of Humane Society International, this is false. Both CITES and SARA only protect three species of shark: basking sharks, whale sharks and great white sharks. In other words, out of 141 threatened or near-threatened shark species only 3 are protected by Canadian federal laws.

Another myth we hear is that Canada bans or restricts the trade, possession or sale of shark products that present human health or safety concerns. This is also false. Shark fins, which continue to be legally imported into Canada contain high concentrations of a potent neurotoxin, BMAA, which scientists have linked to neurodegenerative diseases in humans such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is not unlike, for example, the link between phenylbutazone in horsemeat and aplastic anemia in children.

The third myth states that working through regional fisheries management organizations to ensure strong global management and enforcement practices is the most effective way to prevent unsustainable shark fishing practices such as finning. This is also false. As long as there is a demand for shark fins, there will be local industry pressure on governments not to prohibit the practice. This demand will also perpetuate the poaching of sharks in the waters of countries that already prohibit finning.

Canada has already been identified, for example, by CSIS as a destination country for poached shark fins from Australia, even though some Australian states have some of the world’s strongest shark finning laws. Eliminating the demand removes incentive for fishermen to continue finning and poaching sharks.

We had a chance in the House of Commons to take a major step to end this disgusting practice.  However, during the vote on March 27, 2013, Bill C-30 was defeated 143 to 138, denying this bill being sent to Committee.  As a result, this bill regrettably died in Second Reading.

It is my hope that C-380 was able to generate enough support across this country so that one day soon, we will have the necessary legislation to put an end to shark finning.

I would like to thank Fin Donnelly for all his efforts to bring this issue forward.

Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior