San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Private dock rule to be enforced, again

In a measure designed to curb the illegal practice of shark finning in Costa Rica, the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG) and the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) announced the closing of private docks to foreign fishing vessels in the central Pacific port city of Puntarenas. Foreign flagged vessels must now unload cargo at public docks.

The new measure, which took effect Dec. 1, is seen as a victory for opponents of shark finning, a practice deemed cruel and wasteful by critics and local Costa Rican fishermen.

Although Costa Rica’s customs law mandates the use of public infrastructure to import products, environmentalists and fishermen complain that foreign fleets evade justice by landing at private docks, where law enforcement officers have no legal access. Cargo unloaded at private docks could feasibly enter Costa Rica and wind up at market unchecked.

Under a Costa Rican law passed in 2001, sharks must be docked with their fins still intact. But Incopesca officials claim they lack jurisdiction to inspect ships at private docks.

Randall Arauz, president of the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma), said that lack of enforcement by customs officials – forcing foreign ships to dock at private docks as the law dictates – has been the source of the problem.

Arauz said lack of enforcement has threatened shark populations in the Pacific Ocean because some foreign vessels cut off shark fins and throw the bodies overboard, since shark carcasses have a lower market value and take up space in ship cargo holds.

By docking at public docks, foreign boats are subject to customs inspections and checks by Incopesca, a measure that Arauz believes will protect Pacific sharks (TT, Aug. 27, May 7, Feb. 12).

“It’s been recognized that the fin attached regulation is a good way to stop shark-finning,” he said. “But when you don’t make them do what they are supposed to do, which is dock at public docks, they are going to be finning anyway. This measure is necessary for the policy to work.”

Arauz estimates that between eight and 10 foreign fishing vessels dock in Puntarenas each month. Before Costa Rica passed its fin attachment law in 2001 and began enforcing shark-finning regulations, roughly 200-300 foreign vessels docked at the central Pacific port town.

In a press release, Rosa Brenes, a spokeswoman for MAG, wrote that Costa Rican fishermen “applauded the decision of Costa Rica’s agriculture minister and the fisheries institute  to  obligate  foreign  flagged ships to unload at the [public dock] in Puntarenas.”

According to Arauz, Costa Rican authorities closed Puntarenas’ private docks to foreign fleets twice before, in 2004 and 2007. Both times the measure was ineffective because there was little enforcement.

Asked if the new measure would be enforced, Arauz said, “We’ll see. So far, it’s sticking, but let’s see.”

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