San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Shark finners seeking new ports

Another foreign vessel has been spotted landing between four and eight tons of shark fins in Puerto Sandino, Nicaragua, according to a July 18 story in the Nicaraguan daily La Prensa. After being unloaded in Nicaragua, the shark fins were reportedly shipped to Costa Rica by land, where they are likely exported by sea. Puerto Sandino is on the Pacific coast, west of Managua and north of San Juan del Sur.

The information came from Nicaraguan biologist Fabio Buitrago, who told La Prensa that according to Nicaragua Fisheries authorities, there is not a measure in place that impedes shark exploitation. However, according to article 75 of the country’s Fisheries Law, “the capture of sharks for the single use of their fins is prohibited,” a press release from the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma) said.

The event took place after municipal authorities in San Juan del Sur denied permission to boats requesting to land shark fins. This decision was a direct result of the Belize flagged Taiwanese vessel Hung Chi Fu 68 landing an unknown amount of fins that were then exported to Costa Rica.

Pretoma President Randall Arauz said the Nicaraguan government is also proposing policy changes to drastically weaken existing shark finning legislation.

“Costa Rica has to immediately ban the importation of shark fins in order to stop this unscrupulous industry,” said Arauz in the press release. “This Taiwan foreign fleet that uses all sorts of flags to circumvent regulations, is here for only one thing: to fin sharks. It’s about time that the countries in the region start taking serious measures against these modern-day pirates.”

In December 2010, Costa Rica mandated foreign fishing vessels must land their products at public docks in accordance with revisions made to its General Customs Regulations Law. The changes came after the Taiwanese captain of the Belize flagged vessel Hung Chi Fu 12 was caught landing 2,000 kilograms of sharks without fins at the public dock of Puntarenas, on the Pacific coast.

In order to dodge Costa Rican national legislation, Arauz said that shark finners moved their operation to Nicaragua.

“Shark finners fish in Costa Rican waters then land the shark fins in Nicaragua,” Arauz said. The fins are then loaded in Costa Rican trucks and imported into Costa Rica. Arauz said Costa Rican authorities will often not investigate broken seals on cargo holds that are supposed to prevent ships from fishing in Costa Rican waters and unloading their products elsewhere.

In addition to Pretoma, many members of the Costa Rican and international community have recently voiced their discontent with the shark finning industry. Several thousand Costa Ricans sent a letter to President Laura Chinchilla calling for immediate action against the importation of shark fins.

Javier Catón, a member of a movement of fishermen in Puntarenas against shark finning, said the trade hurts the stock of native fish and drives down prices of legally caught sharks that many fishermen use to supplement their income.

“We want national legislation to stop this trade,” he said.

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