Canadian senator Peter Harder said that ending the trade in shark fins was an "urgent matter," and the government acted with resolve. File photo.

Canada has become the first G20 country to ban the import and export of shark fins after the passing of the new Fisheries Act, China Daily reported.

Ocean and Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, in announcing the ban on June 20, called the practice “unsustainable” and “inhumane.”

“Shark finning is an unquestionably destructive practice, which is contributing to the global decline of sharks and posing an ongoing threat to ocean ecosystems,” Wilkinson said. “The new actions are a clear example of Canadian leadership on the conservation of our ocean environment.”

Canada is the third-largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, the top importers being the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, where shark fin soup has been a traditional delicacy for many generations, the report said.

The demand has led to as many as 73 million sharks being killed for their fins every year, according to the United Nations.

The harvest has faced heavy criticism because most of the fins used for soup are collected through shark finning, which is cutting off a shark’s dorsal fin and dumping it back into the ocean to die a slow death.

Canada has prohibited shark finning in domestic waters since 1994. After years of legal wrangling, the government stepped in.

Senator Peter Harder said that ending the trade in shark fins was an “urgent matter,” and the government acted with resolve.

A Conservative senator, Victor Oh, however, said he doubted that a ban on trade in shark fins would help save sharks.

“What people don’t recognize is that the shark meat market has been growing considerably,” Oh said. “A shark fin ban will likely have a negligible direct effect on global shark mortality; as in some areas after the ban, it causes fishermen to simply catch more sharks to obtain the same income as prior to a ban, which would not help save sharks.”

Oh added that a ban on the shark fin trade would not change sharks’ vulnerability to overexploitation, even if demand for their fins weakens in the long term.

Other shark products in demand include food such as shark steak, health supplements (liver oil and bone) and cosmetics.

Benedict Leung, a member of the Fair and Responsible Governance Alliance in Canada, said the ban marginalizes certain longtime cultural traditions, especially Asian ones.

“This is a useless law that has no impact on anyone else at all,” Leung said. “This law basically enforces nothing. In Canada, we can still hunt sharks domestically. From the east to west coast, millions of sharks are killed every year.”

If the government really wanted to protect the ocean, it should pass a law that bans fishing of the entire shark, instead of part of it, Leung said.

“As Asian people, we always say we need to protect the ocean … we should not kill tuna, hamachi and other ocean animals to protect their growth. This is our common goal, but not just saying ‘no importing and exporting shark fins,’” Leung contended.

“It’s only for certain people who want applause for doing something and try to marginalize certain cultures. This is a cultural attack instead of protecting the ocean and sharks,” he said.

Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, the man behind the 2006 Sharkwater documentary, advocated for action by Canadian lawmakers on shark fin imports, CBC reported. He died tragically in 2017 after a diving accident while filming a sequel to his first documentary.

His parents, Brian and Sandy Stewart, have since taken up his cause and helped finish that second film after their son died.

“Rob spent much of his life trying to save sharks specifically, because of the barbaric nature of shark finning, how quickly we’re decimating their populations, and the impact of removing an apex predator from ecosystems covering 70 per cent of the planet,” said his mother, Sandy.

“They aren’t the scary monsters that people have seen in the movie Jaws. They’re majestic creatures that are vital to our ecosystem. Sharks are the framework for our oceans. Everything that is evolved in the oceans for the last 400 million years has had to deal with sharks as the top predators. If we take sharks out of the oceans, as the top predator, the populations of fish underneath them explode.”

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