Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill.
I do not doubt the sincerity of the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour or the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam for a minute. I have the honour of serving on the fisheries committee with them, and their dedication to fisheries conservation is well known.
I would like to start by making it very clear that the practice of shark finning, defined in this bill as the practice of removing the fins from sharks and discarding the remainder of the sharks while at sea, is a deplorable activity. There are up to 100 million sharks a year that are killed, mostly for their fins, according to the UNFAO.
I think I can say that from past discussions among representatives of all parties in the House, there is agreement that sharks play a critical role in our ocean ecosystem and the practice of shark finning as defined above is abhorrent.
In 2007, Canada released its national plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks in response to international calls on states to do so within the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Three shark species are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora: the whale shark, the great white shark and the basking shark. As a party to this agreement, often known as CITES, Canada takes seriously its obligation to prevent the import of products made from listed species.
This having been said, it is important to make the distinction between shark finning and shark fishing. The practice of shark finning is already prohibited in Canada and has been so since 1994. On the other hand, shark fishing does occur in Canada and has been occurring in Canada for over 80 years in many areas. Canada's shark fisheries are clearly sustainable and based on sound scientific advice. In fact, the Pacific spiny dogfish fishery recently became the first shark fishery to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, a testament to the efficacy of the controls placed on that fishery by DFO.
We have controls in place to manage shark fishing, just as we have controls in place for all commercial fisheries. These controls fulfill the government's duty to manage Canada's sea coast and inland fisheries on behalf of all of us.
In case anybody is tempted to ask, I will digress and talk a little about the budget that just came forward. We were very pleased to see that a new program is beginning for the conservation of fisheries through community partnerships. That is a testament to the government's action on behalf of fisheries conservation. Again, the dedication of the entire Pacific salmon stamp to Pacific salmon conservation is another milestone in Canadian fisheries conservation.
With regard to sharks, all licence holders for Canadian shark fisheries and for fisheries where sharks are landed as bycatch are subject to licence conditions that prohibit them from engaging in shark finning. For example, licence conditions, pursuant to subsection 22(1) of the fishery general regulations, are attached to porbeagle shark licences. Conditions clearly state that while fishing under the authority of these licence conditions, “Finning (the practice of removing only the fins from the sharks and discarding the remainder of the shark at sea) is strictly prohibited”.
Canadian fishermen can also sustainably harvest sharks on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts through directed fishing conditions for spiny dogfish and allowed bycatch of blue, shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks. However, annual landings of these sharks are very small.
Further, if the licence holder removes fins from any sharks that he or she has retained, the weight of the fin so removed cannot exceed 5% of the weight of the corresponding dressed shark carcasses that have been retained. In other words, a licence holder who has legally caught a shark can remove the fin of the shark as part of the normal dressing of a fish. Finally, to ensure compliance, all shark fins and carcasses must be unloaded at the same time. These measures are specifically to ensure that shark finning is not taking place.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is also responsible for setting the quotas and for enforcing licence conditions that ensure sustainability. As mentioned earlier, shark fins cannot make up more than 5% of the overall weight of a shark that is on board a Canadian fishing vessel. In order to enforce this, all landings are subject to 100% monitoring by dockside observers to ensure compliance. Non-compliance with a licence condition constitutes an offence under the Fisheries Act, as enforced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, CFIA, is the federal department dedicated to safeguarding food, animals and plants, which enhances the health and well-being of Canada's people, environment and economy. CFIA regulates the import of food products, such as shark fins. CFIA is already exploring what can be done on the importation of shark fins.
Shark products for human consumption fall under regulations that address the importation of fish and seafood products. These regulations set standards for quality, safety, identification and are enforced by CFIA. It is not illegal to sell shark fins in Canada, and banning the use of shark fins would damage legitimate sustainable fisheries that supply fins but also other shark products.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans promotes the full utilization of sharks. I would note that shark fins are a specialty food product and a treasured food resource for many of Canada's communities. The fact remains that shark fishing is a legitimate fishery and its products are found in numerous places. Shark meat is available in restaurants and supermarkets under many names: fish strips, stockfish, and rock salmon. It is also in fish and chips or imitation crab meat. This is probably more than anybody ever wanted to know about sharks.
In the health sector, shark cartilage powder is marketed as a healthy food supplement. Shark liver oil is rich in vitamin A and is frequently an ingredient in every child's favourite food, cod liver oil. Some even market shark cartilage as an anti-cancer medicine, though evidence is still being sought in this regard.
Shark products are found in dog food, fish meal and even in fertilizers. Some people may even have shark skin wallets or boots. Collagen from shark cartilage is used in creams and other collagen preparations, and it is even considered kosher.
The Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, at its triennial conference in Bangkok, on March 3 to 14 of this year, took decisive action for the protection of a wide range of other plants and animals in order to improve the world's wildlife trade. At this meeting, Canada fully supported the decision to include protection for five commercially valuable shark species: the oceanic whitetip, the scalloped hammerhead, the great hammerhead shark, the smooth hammerhead shark and the porbeagle shark, which are harvested in significant numbers for their valuable fins. This decision means that they can only be traded with CITES permits, and evidence will have to be provided that they are harvested sustainably and legally.
In fact, the only criteria for fisheries management should be the sustainability of the fisheries resource, not polls. The regulations governing the trade of these products will come into effect in 2014. These new listings join those for three species already under CITES protection: the great white shark, the whale shark and basking shark.
I would like to quote the CITES Secretary-General, John E. Scanlon, who said:
This is a big day for CITES and for the world's wildlife. It takes enormous effort to negotiate treaties and then make them work. The international community has today decided to make best use of this pragmatic and effective agreement to help it along the path to sustainability in our oceans and forests.
Requiring CITES export permits will ensure that international markets are supplied by fish from sustainably managed fisheries and, again, sustainability should be the only criteria.
What has happened as well, given the CITES agreements, is that China, one of the world's biggest markets for shark fins, is already seeing the impact of the world campaign. Shark fin imports to China dropped off dramatically last year, to 3,351 tonnes, from 10,340 tonnes in 2011.
Canada believes that working through regional fisheries management organizations to ensure strong management and enforcement practices globally is the most effective way to prevent unsustainable shark fishing practices. A complete trade ban would penalize responsible and legitimate fishing practices.
Bill C-380 can be seen as interference in the legitimate natural resource management policies of other countries. We must be very careful here. Canada has become a target of ill thought out and disgraceful campaigns by international activist organizations for what are very sustainable natural resource industries. We can look at the seal hunt, forestry and of course the oil sands. Bill C-380 sets a very bad precedent, is overly broad and could unfairly target sustainable fisheries around the world, just as many rural Canadian communities have been unfairly targeted even when science shows their resource use is sustainable and managed well.
There is a role for Canada to promote responsible resource management in international waters and fisheries, but we must ensure we follow the appropriate international channels and do not act unilaterally.
Mr. Speaker, as you can see, actions have been taken domestically and internationally to end the practice of shark finning, and they are effective. The measures in Bill C-380 do not add anything further to our current efforts, and that is why we will not be supporting the bill.