THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FISHERIES AND OCEANS
OTTAWA, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, to which was referred Bill S-238, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (importation of shark fins), met this day at 5 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: My name is Fabian Manning, senator from Newfoundland and Labrador, and I’m pleased to chair this evening’s meeting. Before I give the floor to our witness, I would like to invite the members of the committee to introduce themselves, beginning on my immediate right.
Senator Watt: Charlie Watt, Nunavik.
Senator Christmas: Daniel Christmas, Nova Scotia.
Senator Greene: Stephen Greene, Nova Scotia.
Senator Plett: Don Plett, Manitoba.
Senator Ringuette: Senator Pierrette Ringuette from New Brunswick.
Senator Hartling: Nancy Hartling , New Brunswick.
Senator Gold: Marc Gold , Quebec.
The Chair: We may have some other senators joining us shortly.
The committee is beginning its study this evening on Bill S-238, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (importation of shark fins).
Today we’re pleased to have our colleague, the Honourable Michael MacDonald, who is sponsoring Bill S-238 in in the chamber. On behalf of the members of the committee, I thank Senator MacDonald for taking the time to be with us here today. I understand he has some opening remarks. I will ask him to proceed with those. After that, we’ll have questions from our senators.
The floor is yours, Senator MacDonald. Welcome.
Hon. Michael L. MacDonald, sponsor of the bill: Thank you, Mr. Chair and colleagues. I’ve spent many hours around this table. This is the first time with my own bill being presented, so I thank you for the opportunity.
It is a pleasure for me to be here today to launch the committee’s review of Bill S-238, the ban on shark fin importation act, which I tabled in the Senate Chamber in the spring.
With only a handful of clauses, the bill is relatively short and simple. However, I believe Bill S-238 would allow for Canada to take a leading role in ending the trade of shark fins.
Bill S-238 proposes to ban the importation of shark fins into Canada that are not attached to a shark carcass. I should note that exceptions would be provided for by ministerial permit if the importation of fins was for the purpose of scientific research and benefited the survival of the species.
Although shark finning has been banned in Canada under licensing conditions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans since 1994, the importation of shark fins continues to be permitted. In 2015 alone, Canada imported over 144,000 kilograms of shark fins, a number that represents a 36 per cent increase since 2012.
Bill S-238 will also define and enshrine into law the prohibition on the practice of shark finning. As I mentioned, it is currently only prohibited under licensing conditions.
Shark finning, colleagues, is a global phenomenon that is decimating one of the most critical species on the planet. Upwards of 100 million sharks are killed annually to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup. It is an ecological disaster in full progress. Most of these sharks will have their fins cut off at sea, usually while they are still alive, and then they are thrown overboard to drown or bleed to death. This is the cruel and wasteful practice known as shark finning. Ninety-eight per cent of the animal is discarded and wasted in the process. But more importantly, we are witnessing the worldwide destruction of sharks, arguably one of the most important species in the world. Bill S-238 would put an end to fins that may be, in all likelihood, products of finning before they enter our borders.
Before I go any further, I want to be clear about what this bill does not do. Bill S-238 does not ban shark fin soup. It does not ban the sale or consumption of shark fin soup within Canada. In fact, shark fin could still be imported, as long as it was attached to the carcass. This bill solely targets shark fins that are not attached to a carcass because we cannot effectively determine the species, nor whether it is a product of finning.
Colleagues, the reason this practice is so widely utilized by fishing vessels is simply a matter of economics. With the high demand and retail cost of fins, the fins are far more valuable than the remainder of the animal. By discarding the carcass, fishing vessels can save valuable space on board to stockpile an infinite number of fins.
I must acknowledge that this bill was inspired by the work of the late Canadian filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart, whose award-winning documentary Sharkwater is largely responsible for shedding light on the detrimental effect shark finning is having on the species. I must also acknowledge the support of Sandra, Brian and Alexandra Stewart — Rob’s family — who are bravely continuing Rob’s mission to protect sharks.
Rob tragically passed away earlier this year filming the sequel to Sharkwater. Rob committed his life to educating the public, not only about the ecological damage being done by this practice but about the true nature and importance of sharks in our ocean’s ecosystem. It is a privilege to have the support of the Stewart family.
Colleagues, this is not a political issue. It is not a partisan matter. The issue before us is simply that the global trade of shark fins is unsustainable, irresponsible, unbelievably cruel and ecologically reckless, and it is absolutely destroying a critical species of the marine ecosystem. It is not an overstatement to raise fears of eventual extinction because it is the only possible outcome unless we collectively do something to stop this carnage.
Sharks have been swimming in our oceans for at least 420 million years, back when there were only two continents. They predate the dinosaurs by 150 million years. They are amongst the oldest continuous existing vertebrates on earth. As apex predators, they play a most critical role in maintaining the health of our oceans, home to 80 per cent of all life on earth.
Most sharks do not spawn but give live birth and usually with small litters. They have very slow sexual maturity, anywhere from 10 to 25 years, so their reproductive rates are extremely low. They are a species that would have great difficulty recovering if their numbers dropped too low. Yet this was never a concern because, with the exception of killer whales, large sharks have no natural enemies. But now man is wiping them out.
They are an incredible animal that, unfortunately, has been demonized within our society, seen as dangerous man-eaters and a constant threat to human safety. It’s important that we understand the true nature of sharks and the critical role they play in our oceans. We must not allow the legacy of films such as Jaws, though an entertaining film, to stigmatize society’s perception of these beautiful and important creatures.
I think we can all agree that the poaching of elephants simply for the prestige some misguided individuals associate with the ivory of their tusks is deplorable. Or likewise, the killing of a rhinoceros for its horn. Canadians rightfully view the slaughter of these animals with outrage. We don’t accept it. The carnage left by shark finning, however, is left on the bottom of the ocean, out of sight and in large part away from social consciousness, with tens of millions of sharks left to die every year simply to meet the demand for shark fin soup. What is ironic, colleagues, is that shark fins provide virtually no flavour to the dish, only minor texture.
Furthermore, the misconception that the animal’s products contain nutritional and even medicinal properties has been disproved by modern science. In fact, sharks have been found to contain high levels of methylmercury, a neurotoxin that is dangerous to humans when consumed.
While some countries like Canada have regulations in place to protect against shark finning in their waters, the industry remains under-regulated, and where regulations do exist, they are inconsistent or unreliable.
As I mentioned earlier, Canada imported over 144,000 kilograms of shark fins in 2015 alone, the vast majority of which came from Hong Kong and mainland China, by far the largest players in the global market and the primary hub for imports and exports and where fins are very likely to have been sourced from shark finning.
Although Canada is a relatively small player in the shark fin market in comparison to the likes of Hong Kong and mainland China, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2015 report entitled State of the Global Market for Shark Products, Canada is the largest importer of shark fins outside of East Asia.
The statistics on the plummeting population of shark species are staggering. Shark finning has absolutely destroyed populations worldwide, with some having declined by more than 80 per cent in the last 50 years. For example, 89 per cent of hammerhead sharks, 80 per cent of thresher sharks, 79 per cent of great white sharks and 65 per cent of tiger sharks in the northwest Atlantic alone are estimated to have disappeared. This, in addition to 87 per cent of blue sharks in the tropical Pacific, as well as 90 per cent of silky sharks and 99 per cent of whitetip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.
Is it any wonder that 74 shark species are now listed as “threatened,” with another 67 listed as “near threatened”? Or that all 14 of the most-targeted shark species for the fin trade can be found on that threatened list? Yet only 8 species of shark are currently protected internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.
According to the Canadian branch of Humane Society International:
Even for those [eight] species, there is little to no actual enforcement of the relevant import restrictions in Canada. Shark fins are not labelled by species or country of origin, and many endangered sharks continue to be killed for their fins.
Without a ban on the importation of shark fins into Canada, there is simply no way to ensure the fins of vulnerable shark species do not enter the country.
I truly believe that Canada is capable of doing better and that Canadians expect those who govern us to do better in protecting and preserving our wildlife.
Since introducing Bill S-238 in the Senate, I have had an overwhelming number of individuals and organizations express their support for the legislation, many of whom I trust you will hear from during your consideration of this bill. I have yet to hear from a single individual or organization that is opposed to the bill.
Also, in late April, Toronto City Council adopted a motion to support Bill S-238. I am very pleased to have the support of Canada’s largest municipality.
A petition was also created online at change.org. The petition calls on Parliament to support Bill S-238 and end the importation of shark fins into Canada. It has quickly garnered over 18,000 signatures.
I believe Canadians expect action on our part. A 2013 poll conducted by Environics Research group found that 81 per cent of Canadians support a ban on importing shark fins into Canada. Clearly, Canadians are in broad agreement that shark finning is a cruel, wasteful and unacceptable practice.
There has been a promising trend among many jurisdictions in recent years to end the sale and trade of fins. The states of California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington have already enacted legislation to this effect, while other states have legislation pending. There is also a bill currently before the U.S. Congress that proposes to ban the sale and trade of fins at the federal level.
I want to note as well, colleagues, that although East Asia is certainly the hub for the shark fin trade, there has been significant progress in recent years in that region promoting awareness of the ecological effect of shark finning. In fact, many Asian organizations and communities have been among the most outspoken against the practice in recent years.
For instance, the Chinese government has banned shark fin soup from official banquets, and earlier this year, Air China announced that it is banning shark fin cargo, becoming the first airline in mainland China to do so. They join at least 35 other airlines and 17 global container shipping lines worldwide to ban shark fin cargo.
As Canadians, we must do our part. As Canada is the largest importer of shark fins outside of East Asia, Bill S-238 provides Canada with the opportunity to send a strong message to the global community that the current state of the shark fin trade is not acceptable.
I also want to note that a ban on imports is necessary because, without consistent regulation and monitoring worldwide, it is nearly impossible to effectively monitor and determine whether the shark fins being imported into Canada are from sharks that were landed whole and not finned and discarded at sea. Simply put, it is impossible to know whether fins entering Canada are a product of finning or not.
Additionally, there is no reliable means to identify the species of origin of imported fins and ensure they are not of a vulnerable, or even a protected, species.
Our border services cannot be expected to effectively monitor and ensure imports are not sourced from finned sharks. This is just not a realistic proposition, and it is for these reasons that I am proposing a ban on all shark fin imports.
This bill is the only way to ensure Canada does not support shark finning. I believe it is irresponsible and unacceptable for Canada to itself prohibit the practice of shark finning while allowing the importation of shark fins that, in all likelihood, are sourced from shark finning.
I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator MacDonald. I would like to welcome Senator Raine from British Columbia and Senator Rose-May Poirier from New Brunswick.
Senator Gold: Thank you, Senator MacDonald.
You mentioned that some states have already taken action and there is a bill before Congress. Do I take it from that, therefore, that Canada would be the first country to actually ban the importation of shark fins were we to pass this?
Senator MacDonald: I would have to double-check to make sure of that. I certainly believe we would be one of the first, although the legislation in the United States is running concurrently to ours. For the record, I think the U.S. legislation has bipartisan sponsorship by both Republicans and Democrats.
Senator Gold: That, in a sense, is a bridge to my question. Apart from the symbolic and real importance of banning the practice here, how effective would it be absent an international regime? Is there any realistic prospect of engaging with like-minded countries such as Australia or others, perhaps, to develop an international regime to regulate this practice?
Senator MacDonald: Obviously, that is not the solution to the problem. I think it is a step in the right direction, but I think it is easier for Canada to engage with other countries on this issue — and countries are open to being engaged — if we take a lead and show that we are willing to put something behind our position.
Again, we have banned this since 1994. I grew up in an area of the country where we saw a lot of sharks on the East Coast; we were on and near the ocean all the time. Any fisherman would tell you the sharks are becoming much more scarce. We don’t really have a tradition in this country of catching sharks for consumption, so it’s not something that was top of mind with people. However, people who live on the ocean all the time see changes, and they don’t like to see the sharks disappearing.
Think about it: This is in a country where it is not really an issue. You can only imagine what is going on in other parts of the world where the finning of sharks is common.
In terms of engaging countries internationally, I think it is important that we do take the lead on this. I think it only strengthens our argument and our hand.
Senator Plett: Thank you, senator, for being here.
In your comments, Senator MacDonald, you spoke about the fact that you are not trying to ban the import of shark fins as long as they are attached to the shark, and I think the reason you gave was that you could tell the species. Correct me if I am wrong there, but is there a certain species of shark fin that is more valuable than other species?
I am not in any way suggesting that that isn’t the right way to do it, but from that, it appears to me if the reason is that you want to know what species of shark the fins are from, then one species of shark may be more edible than another.
Senator MacDonald: Shark fin isn’t eaten; it is more of a decorative addition to the soup.
To go back to the first part of your question, there are shark fisheries in the world that are considered sustainable, but I think the number of those sustainable shark fisheries is probably declining. I didn’t want to propose a bill that would tell people who were involved in a sustainable shark fishery that they couldn’t continue to do so.
If a shark is caught and used in whole by a sustainable shark fishery, it seems reasonable that, if they are going to use the other 98 per cent of the shark, they should be able to use the 2 per cent that is the fin.
I think it was OCEANA and another group that did studies of shark fins that were imported into Canada, and close to 80 per cent of the shark fins came from endangered or threatened species. Some of these species, like whale sharks and great white sharks are huge animals that are under great pressure. People will not import sharks into Canada just for the fins if they have to import it attached to the carcass. That won’t happen. It is just not economically viable.
Senator Plett: But is the species not relevant?
Senator MacDonald: In terms of the actual species, for a shark fin, I don’t think it is relevant, as far as I can tell.
Senator Plett: That was part of your comments.
Senator MacDonald: In terms of determining what sharks they come from, it is so difficult to determine. When they do take the scientific time to determine it, 75 to 80 per cent of these shark fins are usually from endangered species.
Senator Plett: In your opinion, is the demand for shark fins a major contributor to shark mortality around the world? In other words, to what extent is finning responsible for the decline of the population worldwide?
Senator MacDonald: I don’t think there is any doubt there is a strong correlation between finning and the decline of shark populations.
Senator Plett: Do you have numbers?
Senator MacDonald: We have numbers in terms of the consumption of shark fin soup. For generations, shark fin soup was a delicacy that was only utilized by the upper classes in Southeast Asia, but with the boom of the burgeoning middle class the appetite and demand for shark fin soup went through the roof in the 1990s and in the years since.
I don’t think there is any doubt there is a correlation between the increased demand for and use of shark fin soup and the decline of these very important shark species around the world.
Senator Plett: What evidence is there? I am not in any way suggesting that your comments aren’t entirely accurate, but I have had the opportunity to travel over the years to many parts of Asia. Since you raised this in the chamber, I have taken the opportunity to ask some questions when I have travelled there.
One of the questions I asked a year ago was, “Do you slice off only the fin and let the rest of the animal die in peril?” This was in China. They said that if you were to go to any market anywhere in the street in China, you will find every piece of the shark that they eat in one way or another, other than the actual guts, maybe.
What evidence do you have that that is not being done, that they are possibly not using the rest of it over there and sending the fins over here?
Senator MacDonald: In terms of whether they are using 98 per cent of the shark over there and sending the fins over here, we have no evidence for or against that. There is no question about that. One of the problems is that it is difficult to monitor this industry.
I mentioned this earlier, but we don’t have a real tradition of using shark as a food source in Canada. There maybe some instances of it, but it is not a regular food fishery. In some parts of Southeast Asia, it is part of the food fishery and has been for years.
With 80 per cent of the shark fins that are coming into the country, they know are coming from endangered species. That is, species that aren’t supposed to be caught in the first place. I think the evidence and the noticeable decline of sharks all over the world supports my assertion that the majority of these fins are coming from sharks that were finned in open water.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much. I appreciate all the work that you have done on this.
Do you know if there are any times when shark fins are used and processed as shark fin fish and then sold as a canned or frozen shark fin soup, and would that be caught in this legislation?
Senator MacDonald: I really can’t speak with any knowledge to that. Perhaps I could defer that question to some of the future witnesses. I think they might be better equipped to answer that question. I have never seen any instance of shark fin soup in the stores in Canada, but I can’t say with any certainty that it doesn’t show up in Southeast Asia somewhere.
Senator Raine: If you ban the importation of shark fins and if there is a market for it in this country, then maybe they would get around that ban by importing soup instead of shark fins. I was hoping that that would also be caught here, because there would be no way of knowing whether that shark fin soup that was processed was made with —
Senator MacDonald: That is a very good question and something that we should look at.
Senator Ringuette: That is an excellent suggestion with regard to fins and processed products, which would include fins.
Senator MacDonald: It is.
Senator Ringuette: Who would export an entire shark to Canada? Which culture? Which country?
Senator MacDonald: I don’t think it is a matter of culture or country; it is a matter of economics. I am sure there are lots of countries that would export anything if they thought there was a market for it. The problem is the volume and the weight of a shark. There is no market for shark meat in Canada. As I said, I grew up in a fishing community and nobody ate shark. There may be some obscure markets for it, but there is no real mass market for it, so there would be no need for people to import shark. It would be a costly venture with little return to import whole sharks into Canada.
Senator Ringuette: So with the exception that you are including in the bill, you are relatively satisfied with it?
Senator MacDonald: I am. That exception is for scientific research and things of that nature. This is a first step. We are certainly not winning any war here, but we might be winning a battle. It is a great indication and it is an indicator to the world that we’re going do something about it. Instead of saying we are banning finning in our own waters, we will do something about fins coming into the country. I think it sends a great message from Canada.
I have taken the opportunity over the last number of months to speak to different university students about the Senate in general, and what we do. This always comes up. My bill always comes up. They are familiar with it and they like it. There is great support for this. I am surprised how often it comes up and that they are aware of it. This appeals to a lot of people in our country, and I think for the right reasons.
Senator Ringuette: Going back to Senator Raine’s question and probably suggestion, would you welcome an amendment that would also include processed products that would include shark fin?
Senator MacDonald: I would welcome any amendment if I thought it would strengthen the bill without jeopardizing its opportunity to be passed.
With respect to what Senator Raine brought up, I would like that discussed with the experts who can speak about it with a little more knowledge than I can, because I am not as knowledgeable about that as perhaps I should be.
Senator Poirier: I have never had shark fin soup, so I don’t know where it is sold or where you can buy it. If I understood correctly, you have said that the shark fin is not eaten, it is just for decorative purposes, right?
Senator MacDonald: For texture; that is right.
Senator Poirier: Why do they need the shark fin in the soup?
Senator MacDonald: They probably don’t. They can use something else for texture, but it is a cultural thing and a status thing. That is it why it has erupted the way it has and taken on a life of its own.
Senator Poirier: Where is it sold in Canada?
Senator MacDonald: You will find it in restaurants in some of the major urban areas in Canada and throughout Southeast Asia. Full disclosure here: I have had shark fin soup. I didn’t know it until afterwards. I said, “That wasn’t too bad. What was it?” They told me and I said, “I wish you had told me beforehand.” That was a few years ago. I certainly would know better now.
The major urban centres in Canada -- Toronto and Vancouver.
Senator Poirier: And they can’t make it without the fin?
Senator Plett: It is called shark fin soup.
Senator Poirier: But he said you don’t eat it, it is just for a decorative purpose.
Senator Plett: No, you eat it.
Senator Poirier: You eat it. Then it is not just for decorative purposes. That is good; I wanted to clarify.
Senator MacDonald: They use it for texture.
Senator Poirier: So you do eat it?
Senator MacDonald: I don’t eat it. I would drink the broth. I wouldn’t eat the cartilage.
Senator Poirier: That is all I wanted to know.
Senator Christmas: Thank you, Senator MacDonald. I am interested in the economics of this. This is primarily sold — that is, shark fin soup — in urban areas?
Senator MacDonald: Yes.
Senator Christmas: And most of the imports come from China, so I assume most of the consumers are Asian Canadians, is that correct?
Senator MacDonald: Well, I don’t have hard numbers on that, but I suspect most of the consumption would be by Canadians from South East Asian origins.
It is difficult to determine the source of all the fins because if you look at some of the documentaries I have seen and the coverage on it, this is going on everywhere. This is going on wherever someone has a boat and there is a shark around; someone can go after active sharks and fin them. You have shark fins coming into the country, and you have different species, from whale sharks to great whites and threshers. A lot of these sharks are in completely different areas of the globe. They are all over the globe.
Senator Christmas: If I understand this correctly, this bill will ban only the import of shark fins. It doesn’t ban the production or sale of soup.
Senator MacDonald: It doesn’t ban the consumption, sale or promotion. It doesn’t involve itself in that part of the marketplace at all. We are not making a moral judgment on those who eat it, produce it or sell it. We are saying that the species are endangered. We have to do something about it, the practice itself. We have banned it here since 1994.
We must remember that since we banned it, the destruction of sharks has skyrocketed. It is much worse today than it was in 1994. Even if we are looking at a conservative number of 75 million sharks a year, and some years there have been over 100 million, we are looking at 2 billion sharks in the past 23 years. That is a pretty unsustainable number, I would think.
Senator Christmas: I know in Nova Scotia, for instance, we do land our share of sharks. If we banned the import of shark fins from other countries, are we opening ourselves up to a domestic market for shark fins?
Senator MacDonald: Theoretically, I suppose we might be, but there are two things: There are not a lot of sharks, and there is not a lot of history of this in this country. Culturally, it is not something that is engrained in us.
Again, this doesn’t ban the landing of sharks. If a shark is landed whole and people want to consume the shark, I guess they could use the shark fin.
We are not making a moral judgment on this. We just know the species is being destroyed around the world, and we want to do our little part to say not only do we ban the practice, but we ban the importation of these fins that have been secured by this practice.
Senator Hartling: Thank you very much, Senator MacDonald. This is an interesting topic. Thank you for the video. I will give it to my nephews.
Senator MacDonald: You are welcome. I didn’t make it; I just distributed it.
Senator Hartling: I have a question because I don’t know you very well. What prompted you to get into this bill? Where did that come from?
Senator MacDonald: I grew up on the ocean, on the water. I am a bit of an animal lover. I am not much of a naturalist or anything. I am not a person who goes camping or anything like that; that is not my thing. However, I do like wildlife. When I was a kid, I never missed Jacques Cousteau. Every time he was on, I would watch him. I was glued to the television, with my father. I am just interested in this type of stuff.
I was familiar with Rob Stewart. I think it is interesting that perhaps the leading expert on the habits of sharks was a Canadian, a young man who was very accomplished. Then tragically he died. I started watching the work he was doing.
I had a vague knowledge of what a problem it was. Once I started reading about it, I realized what a huge problem it was, and not only were we not doing what we were capable of doing in Canada, we weren’t doing what people would expect us to do if they knew how bad the situation was and how little we were doing to prevent this unnecessary slaughter.
This bill was introduced in the house — hardly different than mine — back in 2013. It was defeated by five votes. Some of the members of our caucus voted for it; some voted against it. It was discussed, and there were some discussions about us being able to handle this through regulation without passing a law. I was disappointed when it wasn’t passed because I thought it was the right thing to do.
Once I made myself more familiar with the topic after Rob Stewart died and after reading and looking at his stuff, I thought why not take this bill and bring it to the Senate? I thought it was a good bill at the time and that it should have been passed.
When you are in caucus, you don’t always get what you want. That is just politics. We are a bicameral legislature. That is one of the great things about it. You can bring it to the other house.
I said I want to bring it to the other house and have the senators look at it, because if we can get this through the Senate, I think we can get it through the house. I think we can send a good message to the world.
The Americans are working on their bill. Maybe they will see us pass our bill and it will give them some impetus to get theirs through, and maybe we can start making a real difference in this regard.
Senator Hartling: Thank you for your passion.
Senator Gold: Senator MacDonald, I would like to understand a bit more about the potential impact on Canadian consumers of shark fins, because you mentioned that in 2015, about 144,000 kilograms of shark fins were imported in Canada. So there is a demand for it here within certain communities or centres.
The effect of this bill would be to cut that supply off because, as I understand as well, it is unlikely that whole carcasses will be imported just for the fins, and there is not that much history or practice of a domestic shark fin industry.
Senator MacDonald: But there are sharks caught in Canada, particularly on the West Coast. They can be finned.
Senator Gold: To what degree have you talked to or consulted with members of those communities who currently consume shark fin soup? What kind of input have you been given?
Senator MacDonald: I have talked to members of the communities. For the most part they have been supportive and understanding.
We will have witnesses here in the next few days that are from those communities, and you will see how strongly they feel about it. I think there are some sensitivities that we have to be cognizant of and that they are cognizant of themselves.
There is a cultural aspect to it. We don’t want to be insensitive to those things, but most people are pretty reasonable when it comes to the survival of a species and the things you have to do to ensure the survivability of a species.
We will have councillors here from Toronto and other places, such as Southeast Asia, who fully support this ban. There has been a lot of movement in Southeast Asia. There is a whole black market on it that the authorities are constantly fighting. There is a big effort under way. We don’t see it from Canada as much because it is removed from us, but we are not alone in this. It is just that our particular role in it is almost specific to allowing shark fins to be imported.
Senator Gold: There has also been concern expressed that a ban on the importation of shark fins would have a negative impact on those sustainable shark fisheries. I think you alluded to that before.
Could you help us understand what is a sustainable shark fishery? Is a sustainable shark fishery, by definition, one that does not engage in finning?
Senator MacDonald: No. A sustainable shark fishery is one in which the volume of the species and the ability of the species to renew itself isn’t threatened. You are catching sharks from a species who aren’t under environmental pressure and disappearing, where there is good volume. That is a sustainable shark fishery.
As I said, there is not a lot of sharking on the East Coast; there is a bit on the West Coast. But, again, the sharks are also getting scarce on the East Coast.
Senator Gold: Where would I find those sustainable fisheries?
Senator MacDonald: Maybe some in B.C., and in different parts of the world there is, ostensibly, sustainable shark fisheries. If you are losing $100 million a year, I don’t know how sustainable they will be or for how long.
Senator Gold: Presumably those that are in countries other than ours would be affected by the ban. That is to say, those who are working in sustainable shark fisheries and who might be finning but, nonetheless, the stocks are stable, our market would be closed to them.
Senator MacDonald: Our market would be closed to them if all they were doing was importing shark fins, yes.
Senator Plett: I have notes here that say an estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide to obtain their fins.
Do you have a number of how many of those come to Canada? So there are 73 million fins, I guess, out there to be sold, or different parts of the shark. How significant a player is Canada in that?
Senator MacDonald: I would think 144,000 kilograms—and, of course, sharks would have more than one fin on them. It would be more than just one fin.
Senator Plett: Of the 73 million sharks killed for their fins, how many of those come to Canada?
Senator MacDonald: I have no idea of the 73 million sharks. I would say we’re a relatively small percentage of the world consumption, I would think. But 144,000—well, it depends on the size of the sharks. Some sharks are very small; some sharks are huge. Some sharks are tonnes in weight. I would think it would be a very small percentage overall. I don’t have the real numbers. I think perhaps some of the people who come later, Senator Plett, would have better numbers on this and could respond to that question.
Senator Plett: What do you think the chances or the likelihood are — and if we’re not a big player, maybe there’s very little likelihood of this — that another country would challenge a Canadian ban? Have these bans been disputed or discussed at the World Trade Organization?
Senator MacDonald: Yes, we discussed this, and we’ve checked with our legal people at the Senate and Parliament. They don’t think there’s much chance of any legal challenge to this because it’s just banning the importation of the shark fins alone. There doesn’t seem to be anything there that would be in any conflict. It’s not that complex a bill, and I guess somebody could challenge us if we were exporting them, but we’re not.
Senator Watt: Senator MacDonald, I think you have a very interesting project on your hands.
Senator MacDonald: Thank you.
Senator Watt: One of the areas I’m concerned about here, if this proposed law becomes law, is the condition that if you’re going to go after the fin, make sure you bring the whole carcass with you. That notion of allowing the fin to be consumed by humans, what do you do with the waste? Where is the market for the waste, the rest of the carcass, that is? Can we look to something that is a positive, fertilizer maybe for the farmers? I’m not sure whether there’s a market there. Or it could also be used for dog food or cat food, not necessarily for human consumption. I never heard of a human eating a shark, but I definitely have heard about utilizing the fin to stimulate your system. That’s what they use it for.
Unless we come up with a way of utilizing the carcass, I’m having difficulty in terms of how that will be imported to Canada. That is a whole lot of extra weight, which probably would not have a market value when it landed here in Canada.
What happens out in the ocean, take the fins off and let it sink to the bottom and probably eaten, still partially alive? What are we really accomplishing here? That is the concern that I have with this bill.
Senator MacDonald: I think we have to start somewhere when it comes to stopping this decimation of a critical species around the world. A lot of this world looks to Canada for leadership in many areas.
Again, the Chrétien government in 1994 thought this was enough of a moral issue that it passed laws banning the finning of sharks in Canada, but let it sit there. In the last 24 or 25 years, this practice has exploded around the world, to the point where many major species are under enormous pressure. I think Canada can be an example to the world and take the lead on this. It’s a lot easier to take the lead and speak your mind when you put your money where your mouth is, and this is what I think we should be doing.
I think the world is so much smaller than it used to be. People interact so much more than they used to on a variety of issues. It’s a worldwide phenomenon, and it’s the type of issue that there’s hardly a country in the world, certainly hardly a country that borders on the water, that you can’t speak to about this. I think it’s something we could take some pride in, and something we could use to open doors to other countries to discuss not just this issue but also other issues.
A lot of animals are under pressure around the world in terms of their survivability. I’ve begun the preservation of animal life and habitat, wetlands, things of this nature, as a Conservative. I think conserving things should be part of being a Conservative. It’s something consistent with my own personal philosophy. That’s why I want to pursue it, and I think there’s a lot of support for it.
Senator Watt: In principle, I know where you’re coming from. I think it’s the right thing to do. But if you’re only using it as a way to prevent them from taking the fins, if that is your objective, but not necessarily promoting the idea of bringing the whole carcass with it, that, to me, makes sense. But the question still remains: What do you do with the waste? You bring it to Canada, but where will it go? Will it go into the dump? Will it be used for some purposes that might be beneficial? I mentioned the agricultural area.
If your objective is to stop it, period, no more fins, then I can understand your bill. But if we put an additional ingredient in it, such as the full carcass, I think we’re going a little too far.
Senator MacDonald: Nobody would ever import the full carcass into Canada because there’s no food market or other market for it.
Senator Watt: Is there a possibility of making an amendment in that area? Would you be open to the idea of an amendment to eliminate the carcass?
Senator MacDonald: I think the bill already covers that. Again, I would be open to any amendment that would not threaten the ability of this bill to pass. Other people wanted to bring other amendments in too with regard to rays and other forms of life in the ocean. But I thought we should keep this narrow and keep it focused on the importation of fins. Sometimes you have to start with baby steps, and I think you can’t do it all in one day, but I think we can get this done. I’ll confess that I’m not saying if we get this done it will be the end of things. It will just be the beginning of things. But one step at a time, and I’d like to see this get done.
The Chair: Seeing that we don’t have any other questions, I’d like to thank Senator MacDonald for his presentation and his answers to our questions. I certainly look forward to our discussion over the next couple of days and weeks on your bill.
Senator MacDonald: Just to add, Mr. Chair, I’m sure that in the next couple of days, with the selection of experts, scientists and knowledgeable people in this field who will be at the table, if there are any questions that this layman wasn’t able to answer, I’m sure they will be able to answer them in a more scientific fashion and perhaps answer any unanswered questions you may have.
The Chair: I think as a layman you’ve done pretty well this evening. We look forward to hearing from others who will be coming before us in short order.
We will recess now for a few moments to get ready to go in camera.
(The committee continued in camera.)