Recent headlines trumpeted the news that Canada has banned shark fins. Too good to be true? Well, it would appear that the devil is in the detail…
Although I applaud the Canadian government’s most recent action to protect sharks, which largely resulted from years of unwavering effort by people and organisations dedicated to animal welfare across the country, I fail to see how Bill C-68¹ can be interpreted as an effective means to reduce the availability of shark fins in Canada. True, this first important step by Ottawa to defeat the illegal fin trade is a significant accomplishment to be celebrated, but it nonetheless falls short of what is truly needed to save sharks, and the catch is hidden in plain sight.
“Canada announces shark-fin ban in honour of ‘Sharkwater’ filmmaker.” — Global News
“Canada becomes the first G20 country to ban shark fin trade.“ — BBC
“Canada becomes first country to pass comprehensive ban on shark-fin imports and exports.” — Financial Post
If less rigorous reporters had actually read the succinct clause (18.1) related to sharks, they would have immediately realized that only fins not attached to a shark’s carcass have been banned, i.e. there is no interdiction on importing or exporting entire specimens of most shark species with fins attached. Triumphant headlines stating that importing or exporting fins have been banned are thus misleading since shark fins will likely remain available and perfectly legal throughout the country for years to come.
“Canada has outlawed the practice of cutting fins off domestic sharks since 1994, but it did not have legislation to prohibit people from bringing fins into the country.” — Global News
Again, this is only partly true. You can still bring fins into the country under the amended law, as long as they remain attached to the shark.
This leads me to ponder a few questions:
 Once the intact shark carcass has been imported by a law-abiding Canadian, what is to prevent the distributor from selling the fins separately much like the current supply chain has always operated?
 How will the shop keeper, or even the distributor, demonstrate to clients that all of the stock on offer came from sharks that were imported whole to Canada, and that none of the fins came from the black market?
 How will government inspectors be able to verify the origin of severed shark fins once they are on display?
 What about ‘Canadian’ sharks? The shark fin clause only pertains to international imports and exports. What if the fins are obtained from a domestic² fishery or even a shark derby in Canada where finning is illegal? Do they have to be purchased with the rest of the shark, and is there any way to distinguish them from imported fins of dubious origin?
“… in a move advocates hailed as a major win for preserving ocean populations.” — Global News
Notwithstanding this milestone achievement, for which limited public interest has sadly already peaked, sharks will continue to be slaughtered by the tens of millions every year, but instead of retaining only the fins and tossing the dead or dying shark overboard, the appendages destined to the lucrative Canadian market will simply be removed after the shark has crossed the border, still intact. Sure, it will cost more to import entire sharks to sell their fins, but part of the increase will be offset by transforming the rest of the shark into dog food or other byproducts. So just how is this “a major win for preserving ocean populations?”