San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica should protect its sharks, not foreign fleet

I wonder what happens after the last domino falls. Costa Rica just received another black eye on its international “green image” when the Customs Administration was forced to destroy more than 1,000 kilos of shark fins that were landed with only the spine of the shark attached. The law requires all sharks to be landed whole to deter the practice of shark finning.

Todd Staley

Todd Staley

Javier Catón, who represents the Pacific Coast Fishermen’s Union, says the group is tired of taking the blame for Costa Rica becoming the shark-finning capital of the world. The group also claims that foreign fleets landing in the Pacific port of Puntarenas are taking up to 70 percent of fish targeted by Costa Rica’s commercial boats. Tico boats are small-scale in comparison to the foreign factory boats.

The boat in the most recent incident landed with 50,000 kilos of shark and nearly 20,000 kilos of other species, including dorado, tuna and billfish. Catón claims the commercial fleet is forced to target species classified by law as species of tourist interest because the foreign fleets are taking most of the fish.

I do not contend that any type of nonselective fishing is sustainable, but the Costa Rican commercial fleet brings some good points to the table. The shark issue is one of them. The government has been lax with creating and then interpreting its own laws.

The marine conservation group Pretoma, headed by Randall Arauz, has been an advocate of sea turtle and shark conservation for many years in Costa Rica. Arauz and Enrique Ramírez, director of the Costa Rican Tourist Fishing Federation (FECOPT) representing the sportfishing sector, have been in direct contact with Catón about fishery issues. 

“We at FECOPT have joined efforts with [Pretoma], and we both are creating a common front to request the implementation of responsible fishing practices according to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) guidelines, which are mandatory but not executed by Incopesca (the Costa Rican fisheries authority),” Ramírez said.

Shark finning used to be a regular practice in Costa Rica, and Pretoma lobbied to have sharks landed with the fins attached. Then the foreign fleet began sewing fins from larger sharks to the bodies of smaller sharks, and Incopesca ruled that this was a legal practice according to its interpretation of the law. After an uproar, the practice was finally stopped, although the foreign fleet continued to unload at private docks where their actions could not be monitored effectively.

After Incopesca and the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry finally ruled in December 2010 that foreign fleets must unload at public docks subject to inspection, the first boat to unload was caught with illegal fins onboard. Shortly afterward, the fleet started showing up at the dock with only other species and no sharks. At the same time, huge shipments of shark fins began being imported to Costa Rica from Nicaragua. 

In this latest incident, of the 50,000 kilos of shark onboard, only 1,000 kilos were landed with just the spines and fins. The owner of the boat claimed that the meat of those sharks was used as bait to catch other sharks and as food for the crew. Incopesca ruled that this is an acceptable practice, opening the door to more uncontrolled landings of fins. 

Costa Rica and many nongovernmental organizations are now concentrating on a “blue agenda” concerning our oceans. Some 25 percent of terrestrial Costa Rica is protected, but only 1 percent of the country’s oceans is protected – and Costa Rica’s territorial waters are 11 times larger than its land mass. It is not the small-scale artisan fishermen or the sportfishermen doing most of the damage. When we create protected areas, we need to look past the horizon – that is where Costa Rica is losing and the foreign fleets are laughing all the way to the bank.

It is a domino effect. And what are we left with after the last domino falls? Nothing.


Fishing report, Oct. 13

I don’t think Christopher Columbus could have found Costa Rica in the weather we have had this week. The ocean kicked up enough in northern Guanacaste that a couple of charters turned back toward shore.

Before the front came in this week, there were still sails and marlin in the area and catch reports weren’t bad. At Los Sueños on the central Pacific coast, some sails have been biting and dorado have started to show.

On the Caribbean coast, the rains have been holding off until the afternoon up toward Tortuguero, and the tarpon bite is still really strong.

Good news is being spread regarding sailfish and marlin. Grupo Empresarial de Supermercados S.A. (GESSA) has announced it will no longer sell sailfish and marlin in its stores, which include Perimercados, Jumbo and Super Compro supermarkets. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed both types of billfish on a list of species overfished toward the point of extinction.

Also, the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) recently changed its Certification for Sustainable Tourism criteria to include removing species of tourist interest off the menus of all participating hotels. Sportfishing groups have lobbied the ICT to make the change. According to Costa Rican law, the species of interest include sailfish, blue marlin, black marlin, striped marlin and tarpon.

Sportfishing and conservation groups have applauded the move by GESSA and the ICT.

Skippers, operators and anglers are invited to email fishing reports by Wednesday of each week to To post reports and photos on The Tico Times’ online fishing forum, go to

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