A number of posters has popped up throughout East Vancouver in recent weeks, calling for boycott of a famous Chinese eatery that is serving shark fin soup.
The posters read, “Shark fin soup sold at Sun Sui Wah restaurant. Please boycott this establishment.”
Marley Daviduk with the Vancouver Animal Defense League says her organization is behind the poster campaign, targeting the Main St. restaurant.
The group has been staging protests in front of the restaurant every Friday for the last eight months.
Daviduk says they try to convince customers coming into the restaurant to eat somewhere else.
“Our goal is to direct their business to other restaurants that have taken shark fin soup off the menu or just do not carry it,” says Daviduk. “We want to get people to vote with their money and spend it at ethical restaurants to the point that if [Sun Sui Wah] feels like they have lost enough business, they will decide to take shark fin soup off the menu.”
One of the supervisors at the Sun Sui Wah seafood restaurant, who would only identify himself as Winston, told Global News they are aware of the poster blitz against their restaurant.
He says the campaign has caused them to lose customers.
“People love Chinese food and Sun Sui Wah, and they don’t care what [the protesters] say. But some people, maybe they don’t know what Sun Sui Wah is doing and if they are confused, after they read the poster, maybe they will think to go another way,” says Winston.
Daviduk says before launching a protest at Sun Sui Wah, they have campaigned at Fortune Garden restaurant on West Broadway for many months. They eventually forced the owners of that restaurant to drop shark fin soup from their menu.
“When we see the effect that we are having on these businesses, the amount of people that we turn away… We are systematically breaking apart this business, customer by customer. It is effective, but it does take a long time,” she says.
The group says the lack of federal regulation around shark fin trade is leaving them with few alternatives, but peaceful protest.
“You can import hundreds of kilograms of dried shark fins without having any idea what species they are,” says Daviduk. “There is absolutely nothing preventing people from bringing endangered species into the country.”
According to Humane Society International/Canada, Canada imported more than 106,000 kg of shark fins in 2012 alone.
Conservationists are especially concerned about “shark finning,” a controversial practice where fishermen remove the fin from a living shark and toss the rest of the animal back into the ocean.
Earlier this year, Bill C-380 was introduced with a proposed ban on the importation of shark fins into Canada. But, it was voted down in the House of Commons.
Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy and a symbol of status and wealth in Cantonese culture. It is often ordered for special occasions, such as wedding banquets.
Claudia Li with Shark Truth, the organization that works to change perspectives on shark fin in the local community, says serving shark fin soup at wedding banquettes is more of an expectation.
“They used to say that a bride marrying into a family without shark fin on the table is marrying into a poor family. So it kind of morphed into this expectation that it should just be there,” says Li.
But conservationists are crying foul about the shark fin trade.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature says many shark populations have declined steeply in recent decades, as a result of mostly unregulated fisheries harvesting the animals for their meat, livers and fins.
According to Shark Truth, up to 73 million sharks are killed primarily for their fins, threatening one-third of open ocean sharks with extinction.
There have been some effort to enforce a ban on shark fin sale in municipalities across Canada.
There are now 18 Canadian municipalities that have banned the sale of shark fin products. Twelve of them are here in B.C., including Abbotsford, North Vancouver and Port Moody.
Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang put forward a motion last year calling for a regional ban on the sale of shark fins, but the city council decided to wait until legal issues associated with the ban can be sorted out.
Jang says while the motion went nowhere, it generated a lot of buzz.
“We are seeing Chinese restaurants reporting significant declines in sales to the point where some restaurants still offer it, but they are not buying new shark fin,” says Jang. “What they are doing is using up what they have had in stock for a long time. And it is taking a long time to use up because nobody is ordering it.”
Jang says the new generation of young Chinese here in Lower Mainland is increasingly saying no to shark fin soup.
Li echoes that statement.
She works with wedding couples to get them to go fin free in both Canada and Hong Kong.
“What we found is that a lot of wedding couples already know about the shark fin issue. The main challenge for them is explaining to their parents and their elders why they do not want to serve it.”
As for the provincial stance on the issue, the Ministry of Agriculture has issued the following statement to Global News:
“The Province recognizes the public concern with the harvesting and finning of large pelagic sharks and is supportive of the 1994 federal ban on the practice of finning in domestic waters. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates what foods can and cannot be imported into Canada, including shark fins, and the Province respects their jurisdiction.”
Jang says the province has shown no leadership on the issue.
“It often takes the groundswell of support locally to cause the province to do something,” he says. “I think they are just scared. They do not want to annoy the community. But you know what? I am a member of that community, and they are not going to hurt anybody.”