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Endangered whale shipped through Canada, prompting call for tougher trade laws

HALIFAX - Canada's trade laws involving at-risk species are being called into question after meat of the endangered fin whale was recently shipped through the country, sparking outcry from environmentalists.

Greenpeace Canada is urging Ottawa to implement stronger measures after it says fin whale meat arrived in Halifax from Iceland about three weeks ago and was transported by train across the country en route to Japan.

"This isn't something we heard anything about before," Sarah King, oceans campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace, said Monday from Fredericton.

"To think that they shipped not only to a Canadian port but then by rail across Canada was definitely an eye-opener."

Canada is a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which includes the fin whale in a list of the most endangered species. The fin whale is also listed as a special concern under the federal Species at Risk Act.

Environment Canada declined an interview request. But in an email, it said it inspected the shipment and had to allow it to proceed since Iceland and Japan did not agree to the listing of the fin whale under the convention.

It also said the convention provides an exemption for shipments of endangered species in-transit through a country so long as the shipment remains in customs control.

Environment Canada would not provide specific information about the shipment, saying that it does not give information on inspections that did not result in warnings, directions or charges. But it confirmed it was the first time Canada has been involved in the transportation of whale meat.

Robbie Marsland, the United Kingdom's director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said he questions Ottawa's position that it was required to permit the shipment through the country.

Marsland said although the convention rules include an exemption for shipments of endangered species in-transit, researchers at his organization have not found anything in Canadian law to that effect.

"CITES isn't a piece of legislation which is enforced in the 185 countries who have signed up to it. You have to have your own laws to bring it into effect," said Marsland in an interview from London.

"We believe that those local laws could enable the Canadian government to say that they didn't want to have anything to do with such an odious and repugnant trade."

Marsland said his organization has asked Environment Canada for clarification, but it has not heard back.

King said regardless of whether Canada complied with the rules, the government should adopt stricter measures to ensure it doesn't happen again.

"CITES doesn't prevent countries from adopting stricter regulations or to take stricter domestic measures including the prohibition of the transport of these types of species," she said.

"The fact is that the Canadian government has a commitment to protect endangered species and they need to live up to that commitment and not allow the trade of these species through the country."

Follow @AlyThomson on Twitter.

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