Less than two weeks after it proclaimed a ban on single-use plastic items, Canada has now taken another step toward protecting the environment, by banning the import and export of shark fins. It is the first of the G20 group of industrialized and developing nations to do so.

As one of the ocean's top predators, sharks play a key role in maintaining the marine ecological balance. Unfortunately, though, there's a huge market for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup and traditional Chinese medicine.

In order to meet that demand, crews on commercial fishing vessels will capture sharks, cut off their fins, then throw the often still-alive animals back into the sea. There, the finless sharks sink to the seabed, where they die of suffocation or predation. By only keeping the fins, crews are able to maximize the number of sharks they harvest, as they don't have to transport the bulky bodies back to port.

It is estimated that anywhere from 75 to 100 million sharks are killed worldwide for their fins every year, outstripping the rate at which they're able to reproduce. As a result, numerous species are now threatened with extinction.

Since 1994, it has been illegal for Canadian fish harvesters to engage in shark-finning. This Thursday at a presentation in Toronto, however, the federal government announced that it is now also banning the import and export of shark fins not attached to a shark's body. The bill was passed on June 18th, and is presently awaiting Royal Assent.

The announcement was made by the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, who is the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. Also present were representatives from the Humane Society International and non-profit group Oceana Canada, along with the family of Canadian film-maker Rob Stewart – the latter brought international attention to the practise of shark-finning with his 2006 documentary Sharkwater, but he sadly died in a scuba diving mishap while shooting a sequel in Florida.

"Shark finning is an unquestionably destructive practice, which is contributing to the global decline of sharks and posing an ongoing threat to ocean ecosystems," said Wilkinson. "The new actions announced today are a clear example of Canadian leadership on the conservation of our ocean environment."

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