Burnaby staff recommend against shark fin ban

Burnaby city staff are recommending against banning the sale of shark fin within city boundaries due to a lack of authority and ability to enforce such a bylaw.

Last June, Anthony Marr and the Vancouver Animal Defence League asked council to join other cities in enacting such a ban. Due to its high cost, shark fin soup is a symbol of wealth and prosperity in the Chinese community, and is often served at wedding banquets and other special occasions.

But they are harvested cruelly, with the fins cut off before the rest of the shark is thrown back in the ocean while still alive.

In a report presented to council on Monday, staff said there are five restaurants and five herbal stores which serve or sell shark fin, making up less than one per cent of Burnaby's restaurants and retail stores.

There is currently no city bylaw regulating or prohibiting the sale or possession of any specific product.

In 2012, B.C. cities adopting shark-fin bans included New Westminster, Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, City of North Vancouver, Port Moody, White Rock, Abbotsford and Nanaimo. Seven cities in Ontario enacted similar bylaws the year before although last November, Toronto's bylaw was struck down by the courts as not being within the city's jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction and the ability to enforce such a ban are among the main concerns cited in the Burnaby report.

While the federal government has banned the practice of shark finning in Canadian waters since 1994, it continues to allow the product to be imported into the country. The Union of B.C. Municipalities has called on the province to ban the possession, sale and distribution of shark fin, and the federal government to ban its importation.

Last year there were two private members bills introduced in Parliament on the subject—NDP MP Fin Donnelly (New Westminster-Coquitlam-Port Moody) called for a ban on the importation of shark fin and Green MP Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands) wanted to establish labelling laws to verify the imported species and where it was caught.

In B.C., the Community Charter does not allow for city staff to seize products for analysis and verification, which is necessary since the process readying it for consumption makes it "visually unidentifiable," the Burnaby report said.

The processing and cooking of shark fin can also degrade its DNA, making it difficult to determine whether a specimen is shark and its particular species through laboratory analysis. DNA analysis also cannot determine whether a specimen is fin or another part of the shark.

"While DNA analysis continues to develop for identifying sharks, it may still lack the consistency needed for regulatory and legal use," the report said. "A bylaw would likely have some effect as an educational tool although any public expectations for enforcement could not be met."

The ban proponents had sought a simultaneous ban in Burnaby, Vancouver and Richmond. But recent media reports had Vancouver and Richmond also holding off while they await the results of the court challenge of the Toronto shark-fin ban.

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