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Richmond MP Alice Wong swims into shark fin debate by slurping soup

Alice Wong samples some shark fin soup Thursday in Richmond. -
Alice Wong samples some shark fin soup Thursday in Richmond.
— image credit:

Richmond MP Alice Wong waded into the shark fin soup debate Thursday by sitting down to a bowl of the delicacy at The Jade Seafood Restaurant.

Wong appeared at an afternoon press conference in Richmond for Chinese media to back the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association's position to keep shark fin soup on menus.

The two-term Conservative MP has been silent on the issue until now.

"The whole thing has become so political now," she told The Richmond Review. "I've got so many phone calls from constituents who want me to clarify the facts."

She said Canada already bans the practice of shark finning—when a harvester removes fins from a shark and discards the rest of the animal at sea.

"In Canada that is illegal. But we have no intention of making shark fin soup illegal."

Wong said Canada only allows shark fin imports if there's evidence the products have been harvested legally.

As for her own tastes, Wong said she "likes" shark fin soup, but said "we don't always eat it."

"It's people's choice. If people like to eat it, they do. If people decide not to, fine. But banning it? This is not the federal government's decision," she said. "The product is imported legally, from a legal source, so there's no basis for us to ban it."

Wong's appearance infuriated Marley Daviduk of the Vancouver Animal Defense League.

"I'm absolutely furious that a member of Parliament would address only the Chinese media," said Daviduk. "Richmond is a multicultural city, as is Canada. It is her job to address everyone."

Wong's director of communications, Robert Lynch, said he's "trying to get to the bottom" of why other media weren't invited to the press conference.

Daviduk said because the practice of shark finning is banned in Canada, 450 kilograms of shark fin were imported into Vancouver on Thursday alone. So far this year, more than 71,000 kilograms have been imported, and Daviduk said it's impossible to determine what fins have been harvested legally.

"Sharks are hunted all over the world, a lot of it by poachers…and by the time they get to Canada, they're just a dried fin. Nobody knows where they came from, who hunted them—there's no way to prove it."

Daviduk said there's "no such thing as sustainably harvesting a species that's 90 per cent gone."

"Canada is a hotspot for this and it needs to be dealt with—on a federal level, on a provincial level, and if neither of those governments do something, then we have to do something on a municipal level."

In August Daviduk confronted the owner of The Jade restaurant, David Chung, challenging his decision to keep shark fin soup on his menu.

Chung, who is president of the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association, was asked to provide fin samples to test for endangered species. He declined.

Chung has been a vocal opponent of a fin ban—something the City of Richmond is currently studying. The restaurateur maintains that few shark species are facing extinction, and the Chinese tradition of eating shark fin soup is one he doesn't want to break.

While Richmond studies a possible ban on shark fin, other cities have enacted bylaws to outlaw the product, including Toronto.

Animal activists say fins are cruelly harvested and has put many shark species at risk of extinction.

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