Shark Finning Continues to Hurt C.R.’s Image

August 27, 2010

With the world’s shark populations shrinking, attention has turned to protecting the animal.

In Costa Rica, the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma) was recognized earlier this year for their efforts to stop shark finning, a practice whereby sharks are caught and killed solely for their fins, that has contributed to reduced shark populations. Randall Arauz, the director of Pretoma, won the prestigious Goldman environment prize earlier this year (TT, April 23).

Now, other international organizations are stepping in to keep pressure on governments and assure that the ocean’s apex predators don’t disappear from the sea, or the public eye.

Ethical Traveler, a California-based nonprofit that dropped Costa Rica from its list of “ethical travel destinations” alleging an excessive amount of sex tourism, is now calling on the small Central American nation to stop illegal shark finning in its waters.

The group, which once considered Costa Rica “a shining star” on the list, said that shark finning is “threatening Costa Rica’s eco-friendly image.”

Ethical Traveler has joined forces with Pretoma and other marine protection organizations to launch a campaign to end the practice in Costa Rica.

“We want Costa Rica to set an unambiguous standard for action against the barbaric practice of shark finning,” said Jeff Greenwald, executive director of Ethical Traveler.

“They can do this by requiring international vessels to dock at public ports and by strictly monitoring all such vessels.”

So far, Ethical Traveler has collected roughly 500 letters demanding that the country increase enforcement against shark finning and discourage the consumption of shark meat nationwide. The non-profit plans to send the letters to the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT).

Ethical Traveler’s message is not groundbreaking, but it represents a heightened public awareness on the issue, as shark finning cases receive greater exposure.

“Shark populations have declined so drastically over the past years and the plight of fish and conservation of marine life is more in people’s conversation than it ever has been,” Greenwald said.

According to 2008 estimates from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, some species of sharks have declined by 95 percent since the 1970s.

A recent study commissioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species found that fisherman kill more than 200 million sharks per year. Sharks in Costa Rican waters haven’t escaped this fate.

In April, Costa Rican officials pulled 36 Asian slaves off of two boats in Puntarenas, a central Pacific port town.

In interviews with The Tico Times, the freed sailors, who hauled sharks out of Costa Rican waters, said that their main duty aboard the ships was to slice the fins off the animals and throw the carcasses overboard.

On Aug. 11, a Costa Rican ship named Rosa 1 was detained for fishing without permission in Ecuadorian waters near the Galapagos Island Marine Reserve. On board, authorities found 75 sharks whose fins had been completely removed.

Shark fins, a high-priced ingredient in shark fin soup, sell for more than six times the price of shark meat, and finners prefer to remove the appendages in order to leave more space in their cargo holds. In June at an Asian market in Chicago’s Chinatown, shark fins sold for up to $650 per pound while shark meat barely reached $100 per pound.

Costa Rica has passed legislation requiring all ships to unload sharks with their fins naturally attached to help protect the sharks. By docking their boats at private ports where inspections are not imposed, shark finners in Costa Rica go largely undetected.

Pretoma has presented a case before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) demanding more enforcement and searches at private docks.

In an interview with The Tico Times earlier this year, Randall Arauz, president of Pretoma echoed one of his favorite talking points (TT, May 7): “Abide by the law in the private ports,” he said. “Shark finning goes on all the time here, but people don’t see it because they don’t enforce the law like they should.”

Arauz’s 2010 Goldman prize has helped nudge the spotlight toward the sea creatures as other organizations begin to join Pretoma in its anti-finning campaigns. Still, a lot of work remains before Costa Rica can say that it is treating its seas ethically.

“We are glad that people are focused on the ocean more than they used to be, but this is an area where Costa Rica needs to take initiative,” Greenwald said. “Costa Rica can be an example in fighting shark finning and lead neighboring governments to do the same.”

To send a letter to Ethical Traveler’s campaign against shark finning, visit their website at: http://www.ethicaltraveler.org/costa-rica-shark-finning.

The U.S.-based marine life protection organization, Mission Blue, has also backed the campaign.

mmcdonald@ticotimes.net

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