THE Costa Rican Fisheries Institute(INCOPESCA), with authorization from a group oflegislators, recently approved an interpretation of thenew Fishing Law that appears to create a legal loopholeto facilitate shark finning, the profitable practiceof cutting off sharks’ cartilage-filled fins for sale insome Asian markets.Article 40 of the new law, which took effect April25, states that shark finning will be allowed onlywhen sharks are “unloaded at docks with their respectivefins attached to the body.”However, INCOPESCA allows vessels to unloadfins tied to shark bodies with ropes and nylon, insteadof naturally attached to them – a measure that couldpermit fishermen to tie several fins onto one carcass,environmentalists say.A group of more than 20 legislators, includingmembers of the legislative commission that drafted andapproved the Fishing Law, have signed a letteraddressed to President Abel Pacheco and Ligia Castro,executive president of the fisheries institute, endorsingthe practice of tying the fins back onto sharks.IN the letter, dated May 24, legislators ask that “INCOPESCA authorize vessels to unloadsharks that come with their fins, even ifthey are attached in an artificial manner.”The legislators base their interpretationon the goal of “obtaining integral use of theshark” and “avoiding the waste of naturalresources,” according to the letter.“It has never been proven that sharkfinning takes place in Costa Rica, andmany fishermen have been botheredbecause of it,” Federico Malavassi, aLiberation Movement Party legislator whosigned the letter, told The Tico Times yesterday.He explained that his purpose insigning was to protect fishermen in thePacific province of Puntarenas.Legislator Quírico Jiménez, from thePatriotic Bloc, said he did not sign the letterbecause it seemed stupid to him.“With this we fall into the same gameas before. This interpretation is arbitrary. Itis a loophole to allow them to continue(shark finning),” said Jiménez, a memberof the commission that approved the newlaw.He alleged that some legislators signedthe letter because they were influenced byMiguel Huezo, a Social Christian UnityParty (PUSC) legislator for Puntarenas,where many of the country’s docks arelocated.“Shark finning means profits forPuntarenas,” Jiménez said.Malavassi, who was not a member ofthe commission that studied the law butassisted in its negotiations, admitted Huezoinfluenced his decision to sign.“It’s natural. There is usually one legislatorwho takes the initiative,” he said ofHuezo, who did not return The Tico Times’phone calls by press time.INCOPESCA technical directorMarvin Mora claims the GovernmentAttorney’s Office gave the institute thegreen light because it did not revoke thenew interpretation in a statement it issuedin May. (The statement did not mention theconflict regarding the interpretation of theword “attached.”)The Tico Times could not obtain commentsfrom the government attorney whoissued the document, Fernando Castillo,because he was on vacation this week.The Marine Turtle Restoration Program(PRETOMA), one of the nonprofit environmentalagencies that oppose the institute’sinterpretation, accused INCOPESCA of creatingthe loophole in a letter addressed toMora last month.In the letter, PRETOMA presidentRandall Arauz asks that Mora “immediatelyclose this loophole” by orderingthat sharks be unloaded “with theirrespective fins attached (to their bodies)naturally” in the absence of further regulationsdefining how the Fishing Lawshould be enforced. The regulations, currentlybeing drafted by the institute,could take up to a year to become official,according to Arauz.ACCORDING to Mora, the institute’sregulations will take into considerationconcerns regarding artificially attachedfins.“We want to allow unloading as longas fins are attached naturally, after only apartial slashing that allows the fins to bebent to one side while they are stillattached to the shark bodies,” he said,adding that the regulation will be publishedin the official government newspaperLa Gaceta in less than a month.INCOPESCA’s deadline to issue theregulations is July 26, exactly three monthsafter the new Fishing Law was passed (TT,Feb. 18).The approaching deadline, and theclosed-door policy the institute allegedlyhas chosen for drafting the regulations,is raising tension among governmentinstitutions and organizations thatseek to participate.“We have no voice or vote in the draftingof this law. INCOPESCA said nongovernmentalorganizations cannot participate,and we have our concerns about whatwill come of this,” said PRETOMA representativeNoah Anderson.MORA, who countered that theMarine Turtle Restoration Program doesnot recognize Costa Rica’s achievementsin shark protection – especially whencompared to other Central Americancountries that lack regulations forunloading fins, attached or unattached –said he will summon representatives fromthe institutions that should participate indrafting the regulations within 15 days.These institutions include the Ministry ofEnvironment and Energy (MINAE), theMinistry of Public Works and Transport(MOPT) and the National TechnicalSecretariat of the Environment Ministry(SETENA), among others.He also said that instead of nominatingPresident Abel Pacheco “Shark Foe of theYear,” environmentalists should name him“Sharks’ Number One Friend” for the workaccomplished during his administration toprotect sharks.The International Society forConservation and Protection of Sharks,known as Sharkproject E.V., nominatedPacheco for the 2006 annual “award” forfailing to stop shark finning in Costa Rica(TT, May 20).