THE City of North Vancouver has joined a growing number of local governments in banning the possession, sale and distribution of shark fin.
Council passed the new bylaw 5-2 Sept. 10 after some debate over whether it is council's role to ban food products, and whether such a bylaw was even needed.
Activists have been lobbying governments of all levels in North America and the European Union to shut down the market for shark fins for ethical and environmental reasons. Shark fins are most commonly eaten as an expensive delicacy at Chinese wedding banquets.
Fishers from other countries typically haul sharks out of the water in nets, hack off their fins and then toss the animals back in the ocean to bleed out. Because sharks are a top predator, killing them in large numbers upsets ocean ecosystems, biologists have warned.
But with no known businesses within the city that serve or sell shark fin, the new law is purely symbolic, Coun. Pam Bookham criticized.
"So we're just creating a bylaw to discourage anyone who is maybe getting the notion they want to get into the shark fin selling end of things? Is that what we're doing?" she asked.
After some needling, Coun. Craig Keating who first introduced the motion in June, granted there likely are no local business selling the product, but argued the ban would still be worthwhile.
"I get it. The fact of the matter is, when we last discussed it, I said absolutely this is a symbolic initiative. This is about getting the municipalities onside so the government of B.C. and the government of Canada would respond to this important issue," he said. "There is a movement afoot to put this on the agenda. I brought that motion forward in support of that because it's a good thing to do for the ecological concerns that we have always trumpeted on this council."
Keating was first approached about the change by a member of the Humane Society International, which also champions the cause.
Enforcement of the bylaw will be complaintbased, meaning city staff will only target offenders when they have been tipped off. Once someone has made an allegation, the city can send a business licence inspector to a store, restaurant or catering service to investigate. If it turns out shark fin is being sold, council will have the power to suspend or revoke the business's licence, depending on the seriousness of the offence.
Port Moody, Coquitlam and Nanaimo have already passed similar bans while Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby are considering passing similar regulations. The City of Toronto's ban is facing a court challenge.
For Coun. Guy Heywood, who also voted against the bylaw, the shark fin issue was not only irrelevant, but also a waste of time.
"We have these issues that are none of our business, pushing out big issues like the renewal of our public facilities," he said, contrasting the shark fin issue with a brief debate over the city's policies on density bonusing and creating market rental housing. "We're not doing anything for affordable housing. We're not doing what we're supposed to be doing and we're being diverted by silly issues we have nothing to do with."
"We should stick to our knitting," Bookham added.
The city is receiving praise from the Humane Society for going ahead with the ban.
"We are thrilled to see the City of North Vancouver join the global movement to stop the trade in shark fins, which results in the deaths of tens of millions of sharks each year from the cruel and ecologically devastating practice of shark finning," said Gabriel Wildgen, Humane Society spokesman.