A proposed ban on the importation of shark fins into Canada died in the House of Commons Wednesday, but even before the vote merchants in Ottawa said the controversial product may disappear regardless of legislation, as demand declines.

The demand for shark fins comes for shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese dish, but Canada is a small player in the market, importing about 50 tonnes of shark fins every year.

The product is controversial because of the practice of shark finning, which involves removing the fin from a living shark and then tossing its body back into the ocean to die. While shark finning is already illegal in Canadian waters, there is no law to prevent importation.

Fin Donnelly, the NDP's fisheries and oceans critic, had proposed a ban on the importation of shark fin, but it was defeated in second reading Wednesday night by a vote of 138 for and 143 against.

Consumer demand declining

But restaurateurs say consumers are already reducing the product to a niche item.

Ottawa's Sea King Shark Fin restaurant says it will use the fins it has in stock and won't replace them.

At Yangtze, Ottawa's biggest Chinese restaurant, shark fin came off the menu 18 months ago, according to manager Kim Ng.

"If people specifically request it then we'll bring it in, but it hasn't happened in a while," said Ng. "A lot of them are turned away by the way the shark is caught and how it's finned and all that, so they're choosing alternate soups for their occasion."

"It's the older generation that prefer the shark fin soup," said Ng. "The younger generation including the generation before, if they ban it, not a big loss for us."

Toronto ban overturned

There is currently an electronic petition calling for a ban on the sale of shark fin with close to 1,500 signatures that has been sent to Ottawa's City Hall.

So far 18 municipalities across the country have passed bylaws to ban the sale of shark fins, but the ban in Toronto was overturned in December.

In that ruling, Ontario Superior Court judge James Spence ruled the city didn't have the power to enforce such a ban.

"The power to deal with municipal issues is a broad power," Spence said. "However, that fact does not mean that an issue is a municipal issue merely because a policy decision is taken by city council that an issue is important."