Brantford, Ont. has become the first city to ban the sale of shark fin in Canada.

Popularly consumed in the Chinese food delicacy shark fin soup, the product has come under criticism in recent years due to the harvesting process of the sharks.

The "brutal method of capture," where the fin is skinned off and the shark is left to die, is a concern to former Brantford MPP Phil Gillies.

Gillies said that with the harvest rates of sharks hitting about 75 to 80 million per year, some species could be extinct within 12 to 15 years.

A consultant for international environment group WildAid, Gillies helped to spearhead the ban after receiving support from Brantford Mayor Chris Friel and other councillors. He said he faced reluctance to ban the product in Canada's bigger cities.

"We had to get somebody to get the ball rolling on this. There is a widespread consensus that a ban on shark fin is needed," he said.

Gillies said it doesn't matter that the municipality only has 10 Chinese restaurants, none of which serve shark fin, and a small Chinese population.

‘The point is, we now have a template bylaw that could be adapted and used in Toronto and other centres where this is in fact a major issue," he said.

Tradition and luxury

Shark fin soup increased in popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries when standards of living improved in China. It's usually enjoyed at special occasions such as weddings, and not serving it could be seen as a sign of disrespect to guests.

The current harvest process of "shark finning" occurs because fishermen don't feel it's economical to deal with the whole carcass, according to Gillies.

He said the process has been illegal in Canadian waters since 1993, but continues in unregulated markets such as Costa Rica.

Gillies said a humane harvesting process isn't feasible.

"The only way only way to protect the sharks is to eliminate the demand for the product," he said.

Gillies acknowledged that attitudes toward the dish are changing in North America, but that more education into the harvesting practices is needed.

He said that WildAid is creating plans to implement campaigns to further educate consumers on the subject.