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Summary of the Bill

Yesterday, Bill 21,  2015: Fish and Seafood Act passed third reading and now awaits Royal Assent. All members in the Legislature supported it. The Fish and Seafood Act replaces and updates the Fish Inspection Act and the Fisheries Act, last updated in the 1960s, with a modern framework that builds on British Columbia’s local and international reputation as a source of sustainable and trusted seafood products. It further improves operating conditions for British Columbia’s seafood sector.

The new legislation will update the licensing and regulation of the buying, selling, handling, storing and processing of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants. The legislation will also include the following to support sustainability and consumer confidence in the safety of B.C. seafood:

  • Enabling the creation of a seafood traceability system to ensure seafood processed in British Columbia is both safe and legally caught, cultured, bought and sold. The system will ensure British Columbia seafood products are responsibly produced and harvested, and can be traced from the processor to the consumer.
  • Prohibiting the possession of illegally caught, cultured, harvested or processed seafood products, and the unlicensed sale of fish, ensuring only sustainably harvested and safely handled seafood products enter the food chain.

The new act also increases inspection and enforcement.

Banning the Sale, Trade and Distribution of Shark Fins

On November 19, 2014 I was visited by a remarkable group of students from Glenlyon Norfolk School who, together with their teacher, had been working tirelessly to do what they can to make people aware of the plight of the world’s shark population. Following my meeting with the students I asked the Minister of Agriculture two questions during Question Period:

1) Will the government introduce legislation to ban the sale, trade and distribution of shark fins in British Columbia?

2) Will the government commit to working with me and other MLAs to develop a strategy that would eventually lead to banning the sale, trade and distribution of shark fins in British Columbia?

In response, the Minister subsequently committed to meet with me to discuss the issue. We met and at the meeting I promised to put together a package of information that he committed to pass along to Ministry staff for a thorough review.

Shortly after the meeting, I presented the Minister with a binder containing detailed and comprehensive information outlining the rationale for implementing shark fin legislation. The response to my information package that I received from the Minister in February was disappointing. The Minister did not respond to my specific question as to whether the government would consider introducing legislation to ban the sale, trade and distribution of shark fins in British Columbia.

The good news and new reality is that the government has since introduced Bill 21: Fish and Seafood Act. This Bill opens the door for moving forward on a ban on the sale, trade and distribution of shark fins in British Columbia. The key and relevant aspects of this bill are contained in section 6:

Possession or distribution of restricted fish or aquatic plants

6  (1) In this section, “restricted fish or aquatic plants” means prescribed fish or aquatic plants that

(a) are subject to prohibitions or restrictions on harvesting under an enactment of Canada or an international agreement to which Canada is a party, or

(b) may be subject to harvesting practices that are inhumane or unsustainable.

   (2) A person must not possess or distribute for human consumption restricted fish or aquatic plants except as authorized under

(a) a licence, permit or other authorization issued under an enactment of Canada, or

(b) a permit issued by a licensing officer.

Yesterday at committee stage for the Bill I probed the minister on the implications of section 6 with respect to the sale, trade and distribution of shark fin products in British Columbia. I pick up the questioning immediately after Gary Holman, the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands asked the Minister if the list of restricted species would be published in the regulations attached to Bill 21.

Please note that this was the first time that I stood to speak on Monday. I had surgery on my nose last Friday and showed up in the legislature wearing a nose splint. The beginning of our conversation involves some back and forth banter about the dangers of texting while you walk.

Bill 21 Committee Stage Questions/Answers

G. Holman: There’s this reference to “restricted fish or aquatic plants,” and there are references to prohibitions or restricted “under an enactment of Canada or international agreement.” Will this list of restricted species be published in the regulations?

Hon. N. Letnick: Yes.

A. Weaver: Could the minister please expand on what basis this list will be determined?

Hon. N. Letnick: Thank you to — I believe — the member opposite for the question. I’m not too sure. We’re going to have to get an explanation of that in a minute, I’m sure.

The restricted fish and aquatic plants are those that are under two categories: (a) are subject to national or international prohibitions or restrictions on harvesting, and (b) may be subject to harvesting practices that are inhumane or unsustainable.

CDIawsKWYAAb2FC.jpg_largeA. Weaver: That was an opening for me. I recognize it’s very hard to take me seriously when I look like Beak Man here. There’s always a teachable moment in everything that we do in our lives, and the teachable moment that I have here is that one should not text and walk. We hear a lot about texting and driving and the dangers of texting and driving, but let me tell you, hon. Chair, also texting and walking can be very dangerous, particularly if you’re jogging downstairs quickly while texting and not looking where you’re going.

With that, if I could continue on this. Does this mean that if an organization called the United Nations International Union for the Conservation of Nature, through their red list, were to deem a particular species to be protected and subject to international restrictions, this law would then apply in the province of British Columbia to those on the IUCN red list?

Hon. N. Letnick: Thanks to the member opposite for the question and the teachable moment. I’ve always thought — because I am one of those who is guilty of texting and reading messages while I’m walking — that someone should create an app so that while you are doing your thing, you can actually have a proximity indicator. So if you are about to bump into something, it would flash at you to look up. Or if not, at least maybe a little part of the screen with the camera in the front so that you can see before you bump into that pane of glass, or whatever else it is that caused that unfortunate accident on your face.  I wish you the speediest of recoveries, hon. member. I honestly do. That must have hurt.

Back to the question. The answer is if the prohibition is part of an international agreement which Canada is a party of, then the answer is, yes, it could be.

The Chair: Member, perhaps we should keep the discussion and discourse to Bill 21. It would probably be in the best interest of all members.

A. Weaver: Hon. Chair, I will do that, but let me please point out that in British Columbia we have an incredible health care system too. I had a very luxurious time in the Royal Jubilee Hospital here on Friday last week, and I do compliment the staff there. On that note…


A. Weaver: I had a nurse-to-patient ratio of four nurses to one patient, too, and that was pretty impressive.

Anyway, back to the question. That is actually quite exciting. What’s interesting there is that…. You will recall that during the session last time, I raised a number of questions with respect to banning the sale, trade and distribution of a variety of shark fin products. In fact, there are a number of sharks that are actually protected on the red list of the IUCN to which Canada is a party.

So my question then, following this up, would be: to what extent will these laws be enforced, and what penalties will be put in place and how is the province going to enforce this legislation?

For example, if some people were to go in and purchase a product and have it genetically analyzed and that product was then determined to contain hammerhead sharks, for example, which we know are on the IUCN red list, would the province then step in ban the sale, trade and distribution of this? How would this be enforced?

Hon. N. Letnick: Thank you to the member opposite for the question, including his support for our health care system.

First of all, as I said before, this would be subject to Canada and the other parties being part of an international agreement. So that’s one. Then we could have this provision take effect. There would have to be genetic testing to make sure that the species is on the list. That would usually happen, I’m informed, at the point of purchase. It could be restaurants or a fish store or something like that. So the Ministry of Health would be involved.

If there’s an issue, an offence, then the maximum penalties are dealt with in section 57 of the act. We’ll canvas that, I’m sure, in a few minutes. Specific penalties, subordinate to the maximum penalties, will be described in regulations.

A. Weaver: My final question on this section is with respect to 6(1)(b) where it talks about harvesting practices that are “inhumane.”

My question on that is: inhumane is a value judgment. Who is making the value judgment as to what is or is not defined as inhumane?

Hon. N. Letnick: It would be defined in regulation. It’s not defined in the definitions of the act. And, of course, it would be applied by our inspectors, who would use their judgment in making that call.

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