The U.S. release of the movie “Sharkwater”, which opens in Costa Rica today, has kicked off a different kind of feeding frenzy.
International press from the award-winning documentary, which details Costa Rica’s alleged role in the decline of world shark populations (TT,Nov. 9), has local environmental groups swarming to gather signatures to push the government to end practices they say contribute to illegal fishing of sharks.
One ad from the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA), based in the northern San José suburb of Tibás, pictures a shark sporting an eye-to-eye grin and the banner “Smile at Sharks” with a stamp requesting the government “comply with the law.”
Another, from environmental group Marviva, based nearby in Rohrmoser, features dramatic underwater footage of hammerheads around Costa Rica’s Isla de Coco National Park, 365 miles off the country’s Pacific coast.
Both groups are collecting signatures and petitioning the Arias administration to tighten controls at the country’s Pacific coast private docks, where they say illegal activity continues to occur.
Shark finning, the highly lucrative and illegal practice of cutting off shark’s fins then throwing their bodies back to sea, is one such practice the groups say must stop.
The country’s Law of Fisheries, passed in 2005, requires that sharks be delivered to port with fins attached and mandates that sharks be landed at public docks, or, private docks that provide a permanent presence of public inspection officials (TT, July 8, 2005).
Currently, say environmentalists, neither is happening.
“The idea behind our campaign is to use citizen pressure to give the government the tools it needs to force the strict control over shark management,” said Vicky Cajiao, legal advisor for Marviva.
The group enlisted well-known Costa Rican musical group Malpaís to compose a song for the campaign and is passing around a petition that makes specific requests of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA), the Legislative Assembly, the Finance Ministry and the Environment and Energy Ministry.
The campaign, which ends Feb. 29, has already been a success, according to Danny González, director of communications for the group.
Between Tuesday and Thursday of this week, signatures on the group’s petition jumped from 3,000 to more than 15,000 in less than 48 hours.
“People are coming to us and asking us ‘I had no idea this was going on, how can I help?’” he said.
González cited research he says shows a 60% decline in Costa Rica’s shark populations since the mid-20th century, and a near 90% decline worldwide.
Randall Arauz, director of PRETOMA, the group managing another campaign, said the numbers call for even more extreme action.
“Until the government complies with the law, the docks should be shut down and the fishery closed,” he said.
Arauz cites his own, alarming statistics in his group’s e-mail and TV campaign.
“So far this year, 79 boats flying international flags have illegally offloaded 2,400 tons of sharks at private docks, in flagrant violation of our laws and the mandate of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) and the Comptroller General’s Office,” he writes.
PRETOMA’s efforts include a letter-writing campaign addressed at Carlos Villalobos, executive director of INCOPESCA. A link on their Web site allows those interested to send a prewritten letter with the click of a button.
Villalobos, for his part, told The Tico Times that shutting down the fishery is not an option.
“The fishermen on the coast would be up in arms if we just shut down the fishery. We need to find solutions that work for everyone,” he said.
According to Villalobos, INCOPESCA doesn’t have the money to build adequate landing infrastructure for shark boats at public docks.
In the meantime, however, he said INCOPESCA ensures inspectors are present at private docks when boats arrive, though they must coordinate with the presence of other government officials, including Custom’s officers.
“It’s foolish to pay someone to be at these docks 24 hours a day when the boats can arrive only between certain hours,” he said.
Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) spokesman Ricardo Arias said the ministry was considering a temporary closed season to ensure that the government’s institutions are financially and technically able to comply with the law.
Environment Minister Roberto Dobles did not respond to Tico Times’ inquires by press time.
Sharkwater begins today, and campaigners expect a massive outpouring of support for their respective petitions.
“We’ve been working on this campaign for years, but the showing of this movie certainly is good timing,” said González, of Marviva.
Marviva: To sign a petition directed at various government institutions and President Oscar Arias, asking for increased controls on shark landings in Costa Rica, see www.navegalo.com/aleteo.
Marine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA): To sign and send a letter to Carlos Villalobos, executive director of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA), asking the government to comply with the law, see the group’s Web site at www.tortugamarina.org.