San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Constitutional Court Confirms Ruling on Shark Fins

In the latest chapter in the battle over sharks and their fins, the various public institutions that monitor shark fishing in Costa Rica must now carry out a high court ruling that demands shark products be unloaded at public docks or private docks with public installations, the Marine Turtle Restoration Project (PRETOMA) announced last week.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) made this decision Feb. 3, but did not release the full text of its ruling until July 25.

According to PRETOMA President Randall Arauz, the various public institutions involved – including the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT), the General Customs Administration and the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) – have been able to avoid carrying out the high court’s ruling, saying they hadn’t been specifically notified of what measures to take.

“This is kind of weird. The court issues the ruling, then it takes six months to notify the public institutions,” Arauz said.

INCOPESCA executive director Luis París, however, insists that his institute has been following the orders for the last three months.

“Private docks must carry out orders by allowing access (to the docks) for inspections, and in this sense they are cooperating,” he said.

PRETOMA has been fighting to get the Fisheries Institute to uphold the April 2004 Fishing Law, which establishes that shark fishing is legal only when the sharks are unloaded at docks with their fins “naturally attached” to their bodies (TT, July 8, 2005).

The law seeks to prevent the practice of shark finning – cutting off shark’s cartilagefilled fins for profitable sales in Asian markets and throwing the lesser-valued bodies back into the ocean.

INCOPESCA, however, has sought to have the term “naturally attached” interpreted to include fins that have been sawed off but are tied to the sharks’ bodies, using rope or nylon string, for example. Despite the Fisheries Institute’s efforts, the Government Attorney’s Office has ruled four times that “naturally attached” means not severed (TT, Dec. 23, 2005, Feb. 17, July 14).

Arauz questions what will be gained with this ruling ordering sharks unloaded at public facilities. The PRETOMA spokesman alleges that INCOPESCA and the Biologists Association – which is charged with inspecting the shark unloading – have “been in cahoots” and not followed the Fishing Law.

According to Arauz’ interpretation of the ruling, anywhere that the sharks are unloading must now be public, meaning he and other PRETOMA representatives should have access.

“We are planning on going to the docks at Puntarenas (a Pacific port town). If they don’t let us in, then it’s not a public facility,” Arauz said.


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