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10/26/2011

Toronto passes its shark-fin soup ban!  »

Want to know why that shark’s smiling?

In June I wrote a Vegansaurus post about a motion tabled before Toronto’s city council to ban the sale, possession, and consumption of shark fin soup in the city. I’m stoked to report that after a 38-4 city council vote yesterday, shark fin soup is now banned in Toronto. Woo!

The bylaw will take effect in September 2012; fines for the possession and use of shark-fin products will range from $5,000 to $100,000.

For a while it looked like the ban might not happen, when Mayor Rob Ford and a few other councillors argued that it was outside the city’s jurisdiction and instead a matter that lay with provincial authority. I suspect that similar bans in other cities helped make this happen.

It’s important to note, though, that another key factor in getting the ban through was the work of local activists. The Toronto Vegetarian Association did a lot to get the word out, as did groups like WildAid, United Conservationists, and Toronto Loves Sharks. Sharkwater director Rob Stewart also threw his support behind the ban and was on hand for today’s vote.

"Toronto’s action is a huge victory in the global fight against and illegal shark fin trade valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars," said Rob Sinclair, WildAid’s executive director.

Goes to show that groups of local people really can create change! I’m happy to live in Toronto today.

[photo by hunxue-er via Flickr]

06/15/2011

Guest post: Toronto to ban shark fin soup?  »

Shark fin soup bans aren’t just gaining traction on the West coast—this week, Toronto’s city council tabled a motion to ban the sale, possession and consumption of shark fin soup in the city. They’re following the lead of nearby Brantford, which became the first city in North America to ban the soup. This is all pretty great news for sharks.

So why is shark fin soup so bad? Well, it kills 73 million sharks every year, to start, according to Oceana— but what’s really awful is that it kills those sharks in a terribly wasteful way. In “harvesting,” the shark’s fin is cut off while the fish is still alive. The shark then gets thrown back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death or be eaten by another creature. No other part of the shark even gets used. And shark species are increasingly threatened; when a top animal on the food chain starts to disappear, it’s bad news for an ecosystem.

Traditionally in Chinese culture, shark fin soup is seen as a sign of prosperity—serving it to your guests during important occasions like weddings is expected by many people, especially older generations. That’s made it harder to get bans in place, but things are changing: aside from in Brantford, the soup’s been banned in Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, and California may be next. Some argue that the ban targets Chinese people unfairly, since many other favorite animal foods are raised or killed in nasty ways; they have a good point there, so maybe we should do something about that too!

Toronto councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker compared the killing of sharks for their fins to use in soup to hunting elephants just for their ivory tusks. “Playing the piano in the city of Toronto actually led to elephants being slaughtered in Africa. We’re learning now that simply going to a restaurant and eating shark fin soup is leading to a slaughter in the oceans and we want to have that stopped,” De Baeremaeker said.

Toronto has a large Chinese population, so the move is sure to receive some opposition. In its current form, the ban would come in gradually so restaurants can go through their existing stock for the soup—that way they can’t claim that they’ll be losing too much money on shark fins they’ve already purchased.

Moreover, the motion has the vote of another councillor, Kristen Wong-Tam, a former president of the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto—her support for this ban will hopefully go a long way within the Chinese community. Wong-Tam grew up eating shark fin soup for special occasions, but stopped once she learned what’s really behind it. “We are not going to bring up a fish—a shark that’s 150 pounds—from the ocean, cut off the fins and throw the rest of it back” to sink and die,” she said. “Because we found this out, mom and dad and my sisters and I just decided, the soup no longer had taste. It was no longer something we desired. Oftentimes at banquets we’ve actually refused it.”

See? When you educate people, they can change their minds, even older generations who have been eating the soup for years. The director of Sharkwater, Toronto native Rob Stewart, also favors the ban. If a coming report on shark fin soup is approved, the city will vote on the ban in the fall. Write to Toronto’s city councillors to tell them how awesome they’ll look to the world if they make this move.

Terri lives in Toronto, Ontario, where she enjoys barbecuing, feeding feral cats, going to local music shows and getting really mad about hockey games. She blogs about her adventures in plant-based eating at The Vegina Monologues

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