Tuesday 15 June 2021

Shark finning proves tough to eradicate, even in ‘green’ Costa Rica

Shark fins are hacked — legally in this case — off a frozen shark carcass in the Costa Rican port of Puntarenas. The practice of cutting off sharks' fins at sea and throwing the rest of the body back is illegal in Costa Rica, but still persists.
Shark fins are hacked — legally in this case — off a frozen shark carcass in the Costa Rican port of Puntarenas. The practice of cutting off sharks’ fins at sea and throwing the rest of the body back is illegal in Costa Rica, but still persists.

PRI – If you want to learn how to smuggle shark fins into Costa Rica, ask Captain Jose Calderon in the Pacific port of Puntarenas.  “When the inspector came to check the freezers,” Calderon says with a chuckle, “they’d never check the engine room. So we’d hide all the fins in the engine room.”

Shark finning — the notorious practice of catching a shark, cutting off its fins and throwing the rest of the body, alive, back into the water has been illegal in Costa Rica since 2005.

- Advertisement -

But the law didn’t stop Calderon. Once inspectors figured out his engine room dodge, he resorted to a more conventional tactic. He paid them off.

“It was easy,” Calderon laughs. “It was really easy.”

Calderon says he’s out of the shark-finning business now, but with a bowl of shark fin soup still fetching big money in places like Hong Kong, the incentive for others is strong.

Those others often head to the waters off Cocos, a lush island three hundred miles out in the Pacific that embodies Costa Rica’s reputation as one of world’s most environmentally-responsible countries. The rich waters around Cocos are off limits to shark fishing of any kind. But that’s done little to stop it.

- Advertisement -

At his station on Cocos, Ranger Geiner Golfin, a Fidel Castro look-alike who’s in charge of protecting the island’s waters, shows off a big hook for snaring sharks. He says it’s part of an unending haul of confiscated illicit equipment that, in just one recent month, included 200 miles of fishing line and 700 buoys.

In fact, Golfin’s team has collected so much illegal gear that they’ve built a jangly suspension bridge out of it over a stream behind the ranger station.

Golfin says all the ropes, nets, and hooks are just a small fraction of what’s out there, and that his small team is overwhelmed by the fleet of pirate boats.

But he says the biggest threat to sharks is actually Costa Rica’s top fisheries agency, known as INCOPESCA.

“We can’t do our jobs as rangers,” Golfin says. “If I go to the fisheries board and say, ‘OK, well, we need this sanction to do this or this’, they say ‘Oh no, don’t do that. You’ll get my boats in trouble.’”

Golfin isn’t the only one frustrated by the fisheries agency. So is Costa Rica’s vice minister of Waters and Oceans, Jose Lino Chaves Lopez.

- Advertisement -

It is Chaves’s job to help protect the marine environment, but he says it’s difficult because the fisheries agency doesn’t share information. And they don’t have to, since the independent agency doesn’t answer to anyone.

Chaves says there’s a conflict of interest in the agency, since most of its board comes from the fishing industry. Others are more pointed in their criticism. They say Costa Rica’s top fisheries cop often seems to protect the criminals.

Among the critics is conservationist Randall Arauz, who helped push for the anti-finning law.

The law says sharks must come into port whole, with fins attached to their bodies, so fishermen can’t just cram their boats full of fins.

Arauz says INCOPESCA seemed to be looking for ways around the mandate.

“INCOPESCA says, ‘Oh wait a minute,’” Arauz claims, “’according to the dictionary, attached means you can take it off and put it together again.’”

So he says agency inspectors looked the other way when what Arauz calls “Frankenstein” sharks poured into port, with lots of fins sewn onto just a few bodies.

“We took this to the Costa Rica state attorney,” Arauz says, “and the state attorney right away said, ‘No, fins attached means naturally attached.’”

So Arauz says boats then started landing with fins attached to only the spines. He says having INCOPESCA oversee fishing is like “Dracula taking care of the blood bank.”

Not surprisingly, agency board members see things differently.

Board member Mauricio Gonzalez acknowledges that there’s room for improvement, but he waves off the concerns of activists like Randall Arauz.

“They thrive on foreign money,” Gonzales says. “The more problems they find — the more they make up! — the more money they get.”

Critics claim Gonzalez himself was once implicated in illegal shark fishing near Cocos, a charge that he denies.

Oceans Minister Jose Chaves says the government is trying to tighten the screws on finning, but he admits changes are slow to come.

That’s clear in Puntarenas, where Captain Calderon used to smuggle his illicit catch. On a recent day, a tuna boat offloaded about a dozen frozen sharks. Workers tossed the big fish onto the dock and hacked off their icy fins, while inspector David Casillo checked to make sure the fins arrived naturally attached.

He also boarded the boat to make sure there was nothing left in its cargo holds. It all took less than five minutes.

What about the engine room, where Captain Calderon used to stash his smuggled fins?

“The engine room?” Casillo asks. “No, we never go in there.”

This report by PRI.org  was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an investigative reporting nonprofit focusing on food, agriculture and environmental health.

- Advertisement -

We strive for accuracy in its reports. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, send us an email. The Q reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it’s accuracy.

"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Related Articles

Today’s Vehicle Restriction June 15: 3 & 4 CANNOT circulate

Today, Tuesday, June 15, vehicles with plates ending 3 & 4...

Diseases, weather and low prices hit the orange sector in Costa Rica

HQ - The appearance of pests and diseases, in particular the...


El Salvador Makes Bitcoin Legal Tender, A World First

Q24N (Reuters) El Salvador has become the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender after Congress approved President Nayib Bukele's...

Bukele advisers tried to leave Costa Rica with false covid-19 tests

QCOSTARICA - Two Costa Ricans who advise the government of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele were arrested this Tuesday at the Juan Santamaría (San Jose)...

Vaccine Tourism – A Practical Guide

By Amy Gdala, Guest Contributor - The US has a surplus of vaccines, while Costa Rica is struggling to supply sufficient numbers to citizens...

The US sanctions Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega’s daughter and close associates

TODAY NICARAGUA – The United States imposed economic sanctions on four Nicaraguan officials close to President Daniel Ortega on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, including...

5.7 Quake jolts Costa Rica

2021-06-10 17:27:0.5, Magnitude: 5.76, Depth 10.0 km, Epicenter: 95.5 km Southwest Malpais de Puntarenas. The jolt was felt also in the Central Valley. No reports...

The U.S. and Democracy in Nicaragua

Q REPORTS (Council on Foreign Affairs) Democracy is being destroyed in Nicaragua. This has been the long-term project of Daniel Ortega, the country’s dictator,...

Today’s Vehicle Restriction: June 9, “EVENS”

Today, Wednesday, June 9, only EVENS can circulate. The measure is countrywide and applied between 5:00 am and 9:00 pm, save for those under the...

Tourism sector feels in crisis despite increase in international arrivals

QCOSTARICA - Despite the improvement in tourist arrivals reported in May, with more than 72,000 visitors, both the Cámara Nacional de Turismo (Canatur) and...

The US improves travel alerts for Central America; Not Costa Rica and Nicaragua

QCOSTARICA - The United States has eased travel advisories for most Central American countries, with the exception of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, according to...


Get our daily newsletter with the latest posts directly in your mailbox. Click on the subscribe and fill out the form. It's that simple!

Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.