The city of Burnaby has decided against a shark-fin bylaw after receiving a staff report that concluded such a ban could put the city on shaky legal ground and be difficult to enforce.
But Burnaby could change its tune if a Toronto bylaw prohibiting the sale and trade of shark fin is upheld in court, Burnaby Councillor Sav Dhaliwal said on Tuesday.
Toronto passed a bylaw in 2011 prohibiting the sale, possession or consumption of shark fin. Last year, after several people filed a court challenge to the ban, an Ontario Superior Court judge found the bylaw invalid. The city has said it will appeal.
"We will monitor what happens in Toronto – if that [Toronto] bylaw is upheld, then we certainly have reasons to proceed possibly in that direction," Mr. Dhaliwal said.
Burnaby, along with municipal governments in Calgary, Richmond, Vancouver and elsewhere across the country, has been grappling with the shark-fin issue for several years as activists have called for an end to "finning," the practice of chopping fins from live sharks and discarding the rest of the body back into the ocean. The primary use for shark fin is in shark-fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures and is typically served at special occasions.
Estimates of the number of sharks finned each year are as high as 73 million, and research suggests that the practice is driving some species toward extinction.
Last year, delegates from Vancouver Animal Defense League asked Burnaby council to impose a ban on the possession, sale and trade of shark fins. The group wanted Burnaby to take the action in conjunction with Richmond and Vancouver, which still permit the sale of the product.
Burnaby asked staff to look into the regulatory and enforcement aspects of a ban. In a report presented to council Monday, staff recommended against it, citing legal uncertainties and difficulties in enforcement.
"Administration of a shark fin bylaw would present a variety of challenges, particularly in cities where enforcement of a shark fin bylaw will be required," the report said. "There is currently no provision in the Community Charter for city staff to seize products for analysis and vertification. Seizure of product is necessary to identify it as shark fin which is typically skinned, dried, processed, fragmented and cooked for its various uses."
Despite not pursuing a ban at this time, Burnaby council is strongly opposed to the practice of shark finning and would like to see the federal and possibly provincial governments take action to stem the practice, Mr. Dhaliwal said.
"If this was a practice where the whole animal was used and used on a sustainable basis, it wouldn't be as much of an issue," he said. "The way it is used now, it is a ceremonial and non-nutritional use of the food – it is a clear waste and we are against that."
Two private members' bills relating to shark-fin regulation have been introduced to the federal government.
Burnaby's decision is disappointing, Vancouver Animal Defense League spokesman Anthony Marr said, citing tests last year that found nearly half of shark-fin samples from Vancouver and Richmond restaurants were from endangered or vulnerable species of sharks.