The battle may not be over for restaurant owners hoping to put shark fin back on their menus.
Superior Court Justice James Spence ruled on Friday that the city had no power to implement a ban on the sale of shark fins. However, councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said the judge’s ruling is problematic because it could set a precedent for what municipalities can and cannot regulate.
“I’m hoping this does not open the door to other challenges. That’s why I think we need to review the ruling very carefully,” said Ms. Wong-Tam, arguing that Toronto has successfully banned indoor smoking in restaurants even though tobacco is a federally regulated product. “I know that the city solicitors are actively reviewing the ruling. They are going to evaluate what their options would be.”
The city will likely appeal the judge’s ruling and request a stay of the judgment until the appeal is heard, said Ms. Wong-Tam. She added the city obtained a legal opinion on whether council had the authority to make a decision on shark fins before the vote to ban shark fin took place.
Toronto’s city council voted 38-4 for the ban last year because of concerns over the inhumane treatment of sharks that are caught only to have their fins cut off and then released back into oceans to face a slow death. The ban went into effect on Sept. 1, 2012, and was met with protesters outside City Hall.
Kim Mak, a manager at the Pearl Harbourfront Chinese Cuisine on Queens Quay, said shark fins were removed from the menu after council’s vote last year. Since then, the banquet restaurant has lost $100,000 because of the ban, said Mr. Mak.
Shark fin soup is a delicacy mostly enjoyed during special functions, like weddings. Mr. Mak said the restaurant lost out because Chinese and Vietnamese customers took their wedding parties to places like Markham where there is no ban on shark fins.
“This [legal decision] sounds good for our business and also for our customers because at least we can sell it legally now,” said Mr. Mak.
While shark fin soup is a popular item at weddings, its popularity on the ground seems to be waning especially with the younger generation. Very few people consume the soup more than twice a year, and even fewer have an opinion on whether the ban should be in place or not.
David Chen, owner of the Lucky Moose grocery store on Dundas Street West, said he used to stock canned shark fins on his shelves, but they never sold very well.
“First of all, it’s expensive,” said Mr. Chen. “Secondly, not many people like it. Also, many restaurants, they don’t know how to cook it, especially the smaller ones.”
The price may have been a deterrent to customers at the Wah Sing Seafood Restaurant, where a large bowl of shark fin soup sold for $70. Monty Choy, the restaurant manager, said the ban did not make a difference to him, especially since lobsters are the specialty dish at his business.
Mr. Choy prefers to stay neutral in the debate on shark fins. He said he sees both sides of the story.
“It’s a hard decision to make. It’s the Chinese traditional way going back hundreds of years,” he said.
Ms. Wong-Tam emphasized the ban is not an attack on Chinese culture, and pointed out that many people involved in the fight against shark fins in Asia are Chinese.
“We can have a civil debate about consumption practice or the ethical treatment of animals, we can have a conversation about ocean preservation and sustainable fishing practices without bringing in any attack on culture.”