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What we heard: Public consultation for the draft Policy on Fisheries Act Permits for Shark Fin Import and Export for Scientific Research

April 2021

In June 2019, provisions were introduced in the Fisheries Act to address the unsustainable practice of shark finning. As a result, the practice of shark finning, defined in s. 32(2) of the Act as the practice of removing the fins from a shark and discarding the remainder of the shark while at sea, is prohibited. In addition, subsection 32.1(1) of the Fisheries Act prohibits the import into Canada or export from Canada, or attempt to so import or export, any shark fins or parts of shark fins that are not attached to a shark carcass, except in accordance with a permit to conduct these activities issued by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard under subsection 32.1(2).

Pursuant to s. 32.1(2) of the Fisheries Act, the Minister may authorize the import or export of shark fins or parts of shark fins that are not attached to a shark carcass and may impose any conditions that he or she considers appropriate, if the importation or exportation is for the purpose of: (a) scientific research relating to shark conservation; and, (b) if, in the Minister’s opinion, the scientific research is likely to benefit the survival of any shark species or is required to enhance the chances of survival of any shark species in the wild.

As a result of the above legislation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) developed a draft policy to guide the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard in the exercise of their discretion in issuing permits under s. 32.1(2) of the Fisheries Act.

Public consultation was conducted on the draft policy during March 2021 to obtain input to validate or improve the policy, and ensure the policy is based on appropriate principles that matter to Canadians.

Consultation overview

Public consultation for the draft Policy on Fisheries Act Permits for Shark Fin Import and Export for Scientific Research occurred from March 1, 2021 until March 22, 2021. Canadians were able to submit feedback on the policy through an online form accessible via the Consulting with Canadians website and the DFO website. A generic email address was also posted on those same websites, for the responders who wanted to attach documents or had a preference for sending their input through email. DFO shared the link to the consultation on social media via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and also included this link on the Shark Research page of the Departmental website.

From March 1, 2021 to March 22, 2021, the Department received 28 submissions through the online form and 2 emails. Overall, the key stakeholders that had been identified for this consultation (international organizations, academia, researchers, etc.) provided little feedback, and the majority of submissions were received from members of the general public.

The content of the submissions has been integrated in more detail into the Summary of key messages by theme that is found below, which encompasses the main comments and suggestions that were received during the consultation.

Summary of key messages by theme

1. Reiteration of Canadians’ support of the legislation aimed at ending the practice of shark finning and the protection of sharks

In general, the comments received were indicative of Canadians’ strong support for ending the practice of shark finning. The majority of comments reflected the importance of sharks in ocean ecosystems and support for greater protections for both sharks and their habitats.

Despite conveying these positions, several responses indicated that members of the general public were unclear about the goal of the policy posted for public consultation. For example, while these policies were drafted by DFO to implement the permitting authority related to the import and export of shark finning found in s. 32.1(2) of the Fisheries Act (which was enacted in June 2019), some respondents believed DFO was seeking to repeal, or amend, the Canadian legislation. Nevertheless, input submitted based on this assumption was still useful to DFO as an indication of how the Department should communicate on the policy and explain it’s legal framework.

2. Restrictions on permit issuance

Many submissions expressed confusion and concern surrounding the allowance of permits to import and export shark fins for scientific research. As such, many of the suggestions received were aimed at further restricting the issuance of permits or the removal of the exception to import or export shark fins for scientific research from the Fisheries Act.

In addition, some submissions indicated apprehension that the permits would be used as a loophole which could be exploited to further encourage shark finning, and reiterated that sharks should be studied primarily through observation in their natural habitat. The comments suggested the general public is concerned that shark fins would not be used for valid scientific research supporting shark conservation and urged the Department to be extremely thorough in determining if potential future research proposals involving shark fins would be essential to supporting shark conservation efforts rather than utilizing other methods.

Next steps

The comments received through the consultation process will be considered in completing the policy. Final publication of the policy is planned for spring 2021.

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