On Oct. 10, President Laura Chinchilla signed an executive order cracking down on shark finning in Costa Rican waters. It not only prohibits finning and shark fin importation, but also penalizes both foreign and national ship owners involved in related acts, including fin transportation and possession. They risk fines as well as license revocation.
While finning — the practice whereby a shark is caught, its fins are cut off, and its body is thrown back into the water — was banned in 2005 by the Law on Fisheries and Aquaculture, which banned discarding sharks without their fins attached, the influential fishing industry found ways to evade the law by tying the fins back onto the sharks’ bodies.
Environmental organizations, like the marine conservation and research nongovernmental organization Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, or PRETOMA, have been a cornerstone of the campaigns against finning. They alleged that the fishing industry also used private ports to offload the fins, and in response, in December 2010, private docks were closed to foreign vessels. Instead, they used ports in neighboring countries to haul in shark fins, that they then imported legally into Costa Rica for subsequent exportation to Asian countries, where the fins are used for culinary purposes.
“We must admit that there were those who made a mockery of the fishing ban, (by) fishing in our waters, then selling shark fins through import mechanisms,” Chinchilla said. “[Finning] is a practice that Costa Rica does not accept, and we want to send a clear signal of our opposition to these activities. The message is zero tolerance for shark finning.”
PRETOMA and the Vía Costarricense movement in late August organized a petition demanding the president require importation of sharks with their fins “naturally attached.” The letter stated that since the end of 2010, 15 metric tons of shark fins were imported to Costa Rica from Nicaragua. According to official figures, more than US$100,000 worth of shark fins were exported to Hong Kong in 2012.
“It is estimated that in Costa Rica, between 350,000 and 400,000 sharks were caught in 2011 to use the fins and this must be stopped,” said Lino Chávez, deputy minister of Ocean and Waters. “Worldwide, that figure rises to 73 million sharks per year.”