A broad coalition of politicians and activists has launched a campaign to ban the sale and consumption of shark fins within Toronto, a feat they hope will trigger a legislative domino effect across North America.
The fins are used in several Chinese delicacies available at restaurants throughout Greater Toronto, but the often cruel methods used to harvest sharks have prompted conservation groups and politicians around the world to call for an end to their consumption.
“This is not a cultural practice I want to continue to take part in,” said Kristyn Wong-Tam, one of three city councillors to put their names on a petition calling for a “fin-free Toronto.”
Ms. Wong-Tam said she has sampled her share of shark-fin soup at weddings and other Chinese cultural celebrations, but she and the rest of her family stopped indulging about a decade ago when they found out about finning, a method of catching sharks and cutting off their fins before tossing them back in the ocean to die.
“My family and I have had shark fin pretty much all our lives,” said Ms. Wong-Tam, who is past president of the Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto chapter. “But times are changing.”
She compared the consumption of shark fins to the cultural practices of foot-binding and hunting elephants for ivory.
Councillors Glenn De Baeremaeker and John Parker joined Ms. Wong-Tam for the campaign launch. They are working with Rob Stewart, director of the award-winning documentary Sharkwater, and representatives from the conservation group WildAid to get 10,000 signatures on a petition and prod City Hall into imposing a ban by October.
Brantford, Ont., passed a similar ban days ago, the first city in Canada to do so.
The group is lobbying at provincial and federal levels as well, but says that municipal bans hold the most immediate promise of outlawing the delicacy.
“Once the City of Toronto adopts this measure, just like our smoking bylaws, you’ll see this spread like wildfire across the GTA, across the province and, hopefully, across the nation.”
At least five restaurants on the downtown stretch of Spadina Avenue, from Dundas Street West to College Street, sell the delicacy, but few were willing to discuss the dish when approached by The Globe and Mail.
“Yes, we serve it, but I can’t talk about it,” a server at New Sky restaurant said.
Ken Fong, manager at Xam Yu Seafood Restaurant, said he doesn’t serve the soup because it’s too expensive, and his customers aren’t interested in paying for it.
At restaurants in the GTA, shark-fin soup can range from $25 for a bowl the size of a tennis ball to $120 for an extra-large bowl.
Mr. Fong said he also thinks the soup is losing popularity as a cultural dish. “Now, young people don’t think it’s that important.”
Pearl Harbourfront Chinese Restaurant on Queens Quay West used to offer shark-fin soup, but took it off the menu several months ago when the restaurant started getting phone calls from people who said the dish was unethical. An employee said the restaurant is still selling the soup when customers ask for it, but using only the fins that are left in stock.
“For some Chinese people who have weddings and things like that, we’ll sell it to them,” Kim Mak said. “We’re not going to throw it in the garbage, right?”
At Pacific Mall, a store called Shark’s Fin City is dedicated almost entirely to the delicacy in its dried form. Pale, brittle fins line the shelves on one side of the store, and cost as much as $520 a pound.
While more than 90 countries have banned finning, including Canada, the fins are still traded freely across national borders.
“Over the next to or three years you will see a fundamental change in the international regard for shark fins, or else there will be no future for sharks,” said Robert Sinclair, executive director of WildAid Canada and a former Ontario PC Party organizer.
The councillors will press their case for a ban on Wednesday, when they introduce motion to have staff prepare a report on the matter.