Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on the important issue of shark finning. As others have said, I am confident that the consensus among all parliamentarians is that shark finning is a barbaric practice. We all agree on this.
The question is how to deal with the issue in an effective way. Bill C-380 is not the way. Why is that? It is because the bill calls for a ban on shark finning, which is already banned in Canada for Canadian licensed vessels fishing within and beyond our territorial waters. In fact, the practice has been banned in Canada since 1994, through licence conditions under the fisheries general regulations.
On the subject of import licence requirements, I am proud to stand before the House and report that our government is exploring options to identify a practical, effective and expeditious resolution to this issue. Specially, our government is exploring the option of adding additional conditions to arrangements that would require that shark fin imports be sourced from jurisdictions that, like Canada, ban the practice of shark finning. That way, we would bolster our domestic ban on this abhorrent practice by putting more teeth into our important protocols.
The course of this action would both respect Canada's international trade obligations and address the issue of shark finning. Best of all, once all of the appropriate considerations had been addressed, the new import requirements would be implemented more quickly than a regulatory change.
We have listened and we are taking action to address the major concerns of the proposed bill.
What are the current regulations? Recently, the issue of shark finning has received worldwide attention, as a number of animal rights and environmental organizations have blamed it for the decline of shark populations worldwide. These groups claim that between 70 and 100 million sharks are caught worldwide just for their fins, primarily for shark fin soup.
The practice of shark finning can be lucrative, yielding as much as $700 per pound for shark fins. Thanks to our government's regulations, shark fishing in Canada is governed by sustainable management plans and strong enforcement. We have strong management and enforcement regimes in place to ensure that finning does not occur in Canadian fisheries. These apply to all shark species in Canadian waters. Shark fisheries are subject to dockside monitoring, at-sea observer coverage, quota monitoring systems, electronic vessel monitoring systems and hail requirements for both the at-sea observer program and dockside monitoring program.
The Fisheries Act is the cornerstone of Canada's fisheries management policy, providing broad powers to the minister for the management, conservation and protection of fish resources. These powers include the discretion to, one, issue licences or leases for fisheries or fishing; two, allocate harvests among user groups; and three, protect fish habitat and prevent pollution.
Section 22 of the regulations provides the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans the specific authority to set out targeted licence conditions for the proper management and control of fisheries and the conservation and protection of fish, including sharks. These provisions provide the minister with the authority to impose, as a licence condition, measures to eliminate shark finning.
We can see that the regulations already allow the minister to impose, as a licence condition, the measure to eliminate shark finning. Therefore, the member's bill seeks to prevent something from happening in Canada that is already prohibited. Today, all licence holders for Canadian shark fisheries and for fisheries where sharks are landed as a bycatch are subject to licence conditions that prohibit them from engaging in shark finning.
The ban is enforced through a number of internationally accepted methods across Canada. One approach requires that the number of fins corresponds with the number of shark carcasses landed by shark fishing vessels. Under a second and more common approach, the number of fins on shark fishing vessels cannot exceed 5% of the overall weight of carcasses on-board when it lands. Both measures are intended to ensure that sharks are not caught solely for their fins.
All licensed shark fishing vessels in Canada are subject to 100% monitoring to ensure that this ratio is respected. Any violation of a licence condition is an offence under the Fisheries Act.
Penalties for those found to be in contravention of their conditions of licence range from warnings, to prosecution, to requests for court-imposed licence suspensions and quota penalties, to loss of privilege of renewal of the exploratory licence.
These measures were put in place to ensure that Canada's shark fishing conforms to sustainable harvesting practices. It is a very practical approach and it has worked well.
Canada's approach is an internationally accepted standard within regional fisheries management organizations.
Canada has additionally worked with other countries to put an end to this practice. Our government will continue to work with our international partners to ensure sustainable management of sharks, including the prohibition of the practice of fining.
Internationally, we promote the sustainable management and conservation of sharks through international organizations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and regional fisheries management bodies such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
There are also a number of international agreements, to which Canada is a party, that govern the conservation, management and trade of certain at-risk shark species. For instance, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora protects the great white, basking and whale sharks. In early March in Bangkok the convention voted at a global wildlife conference to regulate the trade of shark species that have been threatened because their fins are used to make expensive delicacies in Asia. Delegates supported proposals to put the oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and porbeagle sharks on a list of species whose trade is closely controlled.
More than two dozen species of shark are officially endangered, and more than 100 others are considered either vulnerable or near-threatened. Imports of any of these shark species or any of their parts into Canada is only permissible if accompanied by an export permit from the country of origin, which certifies that the imported shark, or products derived from it, were caught in a scientifically proven sustainable fishery.
Our government has taken action against the deplorable practice of illegal shark fining. We continue to support responsible, legal shark harvesters and crack down on those who break the rules.
Furthermore, to strengthen Canada's protection of sharks we are exploring the option to add additional conditions for fish and seafood imports into Canada that would require that shark fin imports be sourced from jurisdictions that, like Canada, ban the practice of shark fining.
We believe that, with these measures in place, private member's bill C-380 would not be required, and we will oppose it.