San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Proposed Fishing Law Advances

AFTER nearly 10 years of struggling to fill the void inthe country’s fishing legislation, environmental organizationsare hopeful a new fishing law will be approved insecond debate later this month.“There is a lot of support for the new fishing law. Afterall, it was approved unanimously,” said María VirginiaCajiao, legal advisor for the non-profit marine protectionorganization MarViva.The Fishing and Aquaculture Law Project was approvedin first debate by the 48 lawmakers present Dec. 16, 2004,the day before members of the Legislative Assembly went onholiday break until later this month.The long-awaited fishing bill had already beenapproved in first debate in July of last year, but inSeptember, the Constitutional Chamber of the SupremeCourt (Sala IV) declared two of its articles unconstitutional,preventing the project from advancing to the secondvote it needs to become law.THE two articles shot down by the court dealt withsanctions to be applied to unlicensed fishing vessels andthose convicted of fishing in protected areas, Cajiao said.Article 136 was modified to correct errors and Article 153now calls for sanctions to all types of fishing in protectedareas, even if it involves returning fish to the ocean whilethey are alive (sportfishing), she said.The revised fishing law has been scheduled for seconddebate on Jan. 25, according to Cajiao.Costa Rica’s current fishing law, created in 1948, was declared unconstitutional in 1995 becausepenalties for violating the law were notclearly defined. Since then, the countryremains without enforceable fishing legislation(TT, July 23, Aug. 6, 2004).The bill to penalize fishing violationshas been stalled in Congress for the pastseven years.IN an effort to control the practice ofshark finning, or slicing off sharks’ cartilage-filled fins, worth $200/kg in someAsian markets, the government establishedregulations in 2003 to limit thepercentage of shark fins unloaded atCosta Rican docks to 7-16% of totalshark product.However, opponents of this measuresaid it only encourages fishermen to discardthe carcasses of larger sharks theycatch (TT, March 12, 2004).While the new fishing law would allowCosta Rican authorities to penalize sharkfinning and fishing violations, it is far frombeing perfect.Article 139 of the revised fishing lawdistinguishes between Costa Ricans and foreignersin the establishment of sanctionsagainst shark finning, Cajiao said. Accordingto the fishing law, while foreigners areallowed to pay a fine, Costa Ricans mustserve time in prison for violating the law.Thus, according to Cajiao, Article 139directly contradicts Article 33 of theConstitution, which establishes equalitybefore the law.“Unfortunately, the fishing law passedfirst debate without a revision to this article.Legally, we cannot do anything tochange it until the project is approved insecond debate. Then, by means of aninjunction, we would be able to modifyit,” Cajiao explained.IN November, a group of 35 legislatorsfrom different political parties signed a letterto President Abel Pacheco, asking himto sign an executive decree to prohibit thepractice of shark finning and control theforeign, predominantly Taiwanese, vesselsthat collect shark fins in Costa Ricanwaters and unload them on private docks inCosta Rica (TT, Nov. 19, 2004).After a Sala IV ruling in May said theCosta Rican Customs Office had violatedthe Constitution by allowing unloading onprivate docks, in late November, theGeneral Customs Administration announcedit would no longer allow this procedure,according to Cajiao.The same month, MarViva launched atwo-week TV and radio campaign with thesupport of the Ministry of Environmentand Energy (MINAE). The organizationpromoted the slogan “Without a fishingand aquaculture law, impunity will prevail,”and included a TV commercial thatshowed scenes of sharks swimming in theocean splattered with blood.IMPUNITY might prevail even with anew fishing law, however, according totwo fishing experts consulted by The TicoTimes.“I think it’s a great law,” said captainRick Ruhlow, who runs a sportfishing boatout of Playa Carrillo, on the west side ofthe Nicoya Peninsula. “I just don’t knowhow they plan to enforce it.”Roy Ventura, owner of Roy’s ZancudoFishing Lodge in Golfito, a port-town onthe southern Pacific coast, expressed asimilar opinion.“If this law will stop shark finning andthose who are illegally destroying our floraand fauna, I could not agree more,” he said.“But whether or not it will be enforced isanother story.”

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