Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-380, an act to amend the fish inspection act and the fisheries act (importation of shark fins) sponsored by my hon. colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.
Bill C-380 is an important bill with very important implications. It would enshrine in legislation Canada's ban against shark finning. Shark finning is a cruel and inhumane practice that I believe the Government of Canada should be doing whatever it can to end on a global basis. Besides cruelty, shark finning is an awful practice for a number of reasons.
Shark fin fisheries are associated with excessive mortality, as the fishing effort is not limited by hold space. Shark finning threatens the sustainability of fisheries. Finning hinders the collection of the catch data needed to monitor population trends and set sustainable catch levels. Overfishing, which may be driven by finning, is widely recognized as the greatest cause of extinction risk to sharks.
The removal of large numbers of top predators may destabilize marine ecosystems.
It was a Liberal government that banned shark finning in Canada back in 1994. It has been enacted through fisheries regulations and management plans since then. Bill C-380 would place it directly under the Fisheries Act. This would be a good step to take and would send a clear and renewed message that Canada would never accept this practice in any shape or form. It would be a strong symbolic gesture of Canada's stance on the issue.
The stocks of some shark species are in bad shape, and some of the problem can be traced to the practice of shark finning by those countries that allow it. Canada should be doing its part to take a strong stand and take effective action against others who participate in this awful practice.
It is the other part of the bill, which I partially support, that gives me some hesitation. This part of the bill would add to the Fish Inspection Act a prohibition against importing shark fins that are not attached to the rest of the shark carcass. It would also allow the minister to import fins used for scientific research related to the survival of shark species.
In 2011, Canada imported over 100 tonnes of shark fin, which were worth $6.3 million. None of these fins were attached to the rest of the carcass at the time of import. Therefore, this bill would essentially ban all shark fin imports to Canadian soil without making a difference as to whether they were obtained through shark finning or through sustainable and proper fishing methods.
About half of the 2011 shark fin imports came from other countries that already ban the practice of shark finning. I wonder what message it sends if we completely ban the import of shark fins and do not note the difference between the countries that ban the practice of shark finning and those that still allow it to take place. I believe that we must make a distinction and send a clear message to those countries that still allow the practice to take place in their shark fisheries.
If we do not make a distinction between which species the fins come from, I would also wonder whether they were from endangered species or from those with stocks that are in good shape. These are important points to make.
As it is currently written, the bill would place a federal ban on imports of a food that is still seen as very valuable and very important by many in the Chinese Canadian community. I do not believe that a complete federal ban on all shark fin imports to this country, whether they were obtained through shark finning or through proper sustainable fishing methods, would send a very good message to those countries.
I believe that we should have the right to choose to eat a culturally important food as long as it is obtained properly from species that are not threatened and that the shark fishing did not involve cruelty.
It is dependent upon us as federal legislators to be very sensitive to the cultural and identity concerns of Canada's many different communities, while still taking a strong stance against the very cruel and inhumane practice of shark finning, which is still practised in countries around the world. Not all shark fisheries involve species that are threatened, and not all shark fishers participate in the cruel practice of shark finning.
This is also an important point to make. We must not put countries that do a good job of regulating their shark fisheries to prevent overfishing and cruelty in the same boat as countries that permit overfishing and shark finning. If we punish only those countries that allow these practices by banning imports from them we would send them a very clear message that this is unacceptable. Perhaps this would be an incentive for those countries to change the way they handle their shark fisheries and perhaps other countries would follow suit.
However, if we also punish those countries that are doing a good job regulating their shark fisheries and preventing cruelty, what message are we sending to them? We would be sending the message that it makes no difference whether they regulate their fisheries and prevent cruelty; that we will treat them the same as countries with unregulated fisheries that allow overfishing to destroy shark stocks and that allow the cruel practice of shark finning. I certainly do not feel that this would be a prudent thing to do.
I would like to explore the bill further in committee and see whether we can make a distinction between where the shark fin comes from and what species it comes from. Some shark fins may very well come from countries that ban shark finning already. The shark may be of a species that is fished sustainably and in an appropriate manner by countries that ban shark finning. The fin may also be separated from the carcass properly once the shark has been landed and brought to the shore of that country. Other shark fins may come from countries that allow shark finning, or from threatened species of shark. These fins are the fins we should focus on banning from importation to Canada.
If Bill C-380 passes as it is currently written, it would make Canada the first country in the world to ban shark fin imports. It is a very important bill and we must look at it closely. I agree completely that shark finning is an awful practice and we need to do more to pressure those countries that engage in this practice to stop it from happening. We must do what we can to make sure shark fins coming into Canada are legally harvested.
I come from an area of the country where fisheries are very important. Having sustainable fisheries is something that is truly important to me and to the many people involved in the fisheries in my riding of Cardigan and in the province of Prince Edward Island. We all agree that a sustainable fishery is something we must have. However, the people involved in the fishery must be able to make a living if they are fishing the proper species of shark and if they are using the proper methods.
We should not punish those people involved in sustainable shark fisheries. We cannot lump them in together with people who fish critically endangered species and those who practise shark finning. I believe if we look at the bill more closely at committee and are able to make some amendments, it would serve this purpose.