A campaign to stamp out the use of shark fins by Chinese restaurants is quickly gaining steam across Metro Vancouver.
Activists have already persuaded Coquitlam, Port Moody and the CIty of North Vancouver to ban the possession and use of the fins and Burnaby is expected to follow suit.
Now Vancouver Animal Defence League spokesman Anthony Marr is preparing to go after Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey – cities home to many of the Metro restaurants that serve shark fin soup.
“They’re going down like dominoes,” Marr said of the cities signing on. “It’s going pretty strong.”
Seven cities in Ontario, including Toronto, have agreed to bans, but B.C. is the big prize.
By getting smaller communities on board first, Marr hopes to convince councils of the bigger Metro cities to simultaneously sign on to a ban and defuse concerns that affected restaurateurs will flee Vancouver for Richmond or vice-versa.
Marr himself ate shark fin soup as a kid in Hong Kong, but gave it up when he saw how poachers carve the fins off live sharks, which are then dumped back in the ocean to die.
It’s not just a tragedy for the slow-to-reproduce sharks.
“If you wipe out the sharks, the medium-sized fish they prey on will proliferate and overfeed on the smaller fish,” Marr said. “They will proliferate and the fisheries will most likely collapse. So sharks are very important.”
Marr claims plenty of allies in the Chinese community who agree it’s time to end a barbaric practice, responsible for the slaughter of about 50 million sharks annually.
But he doesn’t try to convert restaurateurs, or their rich clientele who see shark fin as a prestigious delicacy.
He figures sharks will be extinct by the time they come around or are replaced by younger, more enlightened generations of Chinese heritage.
Nor does he apologize for what some fellow Chinese see as an attack on their culture.
“If you cater to the Chinese culture and let them carry on with it, you’re not really doing the Chinese reputation any favours,” he counters.
Some civic politicians have questioned their authority to enforce a ban.
Marr is working with others, including NDP MP Fin Donnelly, for a Canada-wide ban, as well as a provincial one.
But he contends shark fins should be illegal to possess already, since Canada is signatory to an international convention banning trade in endangered species and many shark species are endangered.
It’s difficult to prove what species of shark a fin came from or whether it was removed from a live or dead shark, he noted.
Some of the local bylaws being imposed simply refuse business licences to businesses that trade or use shark fins, or impose fines for violations.
Marr has been a force in B.C.’s animal rights movement for years.
In the mid-1990s he helped wage a campaign in Vancouver’s Chinatown to end imports of endangered species products like tiger balm, rhino horn and bear bile.
And he spearheaded a provincial initiative to block bear hunting, a campaign that failed but led to a short-lived provincial moratorium on grizzly hunting in 2001.
Vancouver Animal Defence League spokesman Anthony Marr thinks he’s closing in on victory in a campaign to get shark fin soup off the menus of local restaurants.