Calgary delays shark fin ban decision

Calgary city council has put off a decision on banning shark fins until after the next municipal election.

City council gives task force until December to come up with plan

Shark fin soup is displayed at a restaurant in Hong Kong. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

Efforts to implement an immediate ban on the sale of shark fins in Calgary have been delayed after a council committee met Wednesday to hear the recommendations of a task force examining the issue.

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The task force recommended that the city lean away from an outright ban and instead focus on finding ethical sources of the product.

"Right now, the recommendation coming is there is going to be more time to engage, more time to discuss and as well as looking at different options and possibilities of a sustainable shark product," said Ald. John Mar.

After a day of hearing from the public and the task force, the committee voted to give the task force until December to come up with a plan to implement their recommendations.

The committee also voted to change the wording of the bylaw, which has already passed first reading.

Instead of banning the possession and consumption of shark fins, the bylaw will ban the sale, trade and distribution of shark fins.

The volunteer task force has cost the city $12,000 so far, but a consultant that used to get paid has now agreed to continue as a volunteer only.

Shark fin critics attend meeting

Dozens of members of the public also showed up to the city hall meeting Wednesday — many of them in favour of a ban.

Among them was a Vancouver city councillor who says the argument that shark fin soup is integral to traditional Chinese culture is bogus.

"It's not a cultural thing because, even in China itself, the Chinese government has decided to phase out all shark fin from all state banquets because they said that it is not appropriate," said Coun. Kerry Jang.

Bylaws similar to Calgary's, including one in Toronto, have faced legal troubles with courts deciding they are outside of municipal jurisdiction.

But Jang says it's all in the wording.

"They were trying to ban the consumption and possession and that's very difficult to actually regulate or enforce," he said.

Concern over extinction, mercury consumption

In the past, Ald. Brian Pincott — who co-chaired a meeting with Mar to consult with Calgary's Chinese community last December — has suggested there's a need for a bylaw.

At that meeting, some members say they already use ethically-sourced product to serve the traditional dish.

The concern is that the delicacy could lead to extinction of the species of shark whose fin is used to make the soup.

Opponents say this species of fish is being slaughtered inhumanely just for the fins.

Some are also worried the mercury content is dangerous for human consumption.

Too much time spent on the issue, says alderman

For his part, Ald. Jim Stevenson wants council members to settle the issue soon.

"We've spent enough time and enough money on investigating this thing. We know it is out of our jurisdiction. That's why we are not going ahead with any bylaw," he said. 

"So why do we have to put any more time into it? If we want to send a letter to the feds and say 'do more work on this,' that's fine. But it is their responsibility, not ours."

A federal bill to ban the importation of shark fins failed in late March.

Despite this, opponents say the controversial product may disappear regardless of legislation, as demand declines.