The days of shark fin soup could be numbered as Burnaby, Vancouver and Richmond enter discussions about a coordinated ban of the fins.
The soup is served as a prestigious dish at Chinese wedding banquets in restaurants throughout the Lower Mainland, but activists concerned about shark populations and the cruelty involved in fin harvesting have been pushing municipalities to ban the delicacy.
"I believe shark fin soup has outlived its usefulness," said Coun. Sav Dhaliwal. "It certainly is very cruel, and I think people need to be thinking twice about it before they order a bowl of shark fin soup."
Dhaliwal said there have been unofficial talks between the cities on coordinating a ban, which would be more effective if all cities were on board. According to Dhaliwal, businesses are always concerned when one municipality bans something but a neighbouring city doesn't, and customers could easily go someplace else to find the soup.
"People tend to change their consumption and habits if they know it's a region-wide issue," he said.
An anti-shark fin delegation visited Burnaby council in early July, and Mayor Derek Corrigan expressed concerns about how the city could enforce a ban. Dhaliwal said the best thing would be for the province to ban the fins, but the city can still express support for the cause.
"As municipalities, we have always advocated for what we believe are good environmental or social issues. Often what we do is symbolic support," he said. "Any city is not in a position to really enact something that will effectively ban it, but we can show that we do care."
Craig Collis, Burnaby's chief licence inspector, said staff from the three cities plan to meet at the end of August. It's still not clear what authority municipalities have in banning the fins - that's something staff still need to investigate.
"Those are all going to be part of the discussion, we'll all be looking at the same issue around enforcement," Collis said.
If the city has the authority, staff may look at revoking the licences of restaurants that break the rules.
Once the meetings conclude, Burnaby staff will report back in fall so council can decide how to proceed.
Burnaby resident Claudia Li founded Shark Truth, a group pushing for a ban on the fins. Li is excited about the tri-cities discussion.
"The three cities that sell the most shark fins in B.C. are saying they'll sit down and work together on a conservation strategy - that shows how much traction has grown for this species," Li said.
Activists like Li have criticized the practice of "finning," where the shark's fin is sliced off and the creature is thrown back in the ocean, left to die. Estimates on the number of sharks killed annually can range from 10 million to 73 million, with median figures at 38 million. The United Nations Environment Programme points to studies showing a 90 per cent collapse in shark populations in the Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico.
Li said her group has consulted with a lawyer and that cities do have the authority to ban shark fin products.
"I know what they can do is have the power to give businesses fines or prevent them from renewing their business licences," she said.
Li would like to see cities using positive reinforcement with restaurants that comply with a ban.
"We really want to encourage the city councillors to come up with a creative way to enforce the shark fin ban, not just through a hefty fine," she said.
Li gave up shark fin soup more than three years ago. She said the fins are served in a clear, condensed chicken and ham broth, but the fin itself has no flavour or nutritional value. The expensive dish is a symbol of status and wealth, often served at wedding banquets.
According to Li, serving shark fin soup reflects the Chinese virtue of sharing fortune.
"It's a beautiful virtue I'm very proud of," she said. "We just remind people they can do that in other ways."