San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica officials still awaiting Colombia report on shark massacre

On Oct. 14, at least 2,000 sharks were discovered dead with their fins removed in Colombia’s Malpelo National Park and marine sanctuary, off the Pacific coast. That day, many Costa Ricans – already sensitive to foreign fleets shark finning in their country’s waters – discovered that the alleged perpetrators in the Colombia incident were 10 Costa Rican ships. The country’s “green” image had received another blow.

Although two weeks have passed, Costa Rican officials say they are still waiting for Colombian authorities to file a formal complaint over the incident.

“I have received a report [that is] very shocking from divers who arrived from Russia to observe the high concentration of sharks in Malpelo. They found numerous fishing boats entering the area illegally,” said Sandra Bessudo, an environmental adviser to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Colombian authorities said that divers found thousands of dead sharks.

Bessudo told The Tico Times this week that the Colombian Coast Guard seized two Costa Rican fishing vessels after the discovery.

Last week, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry issued a second formal petition to the Colombian government asking for more information to help identify the boats involved in the Malpelo case. Colombian Foreign Ministry officials responded that they had no further information to help clarify the case.

In Costa Rica, shark finning is an ongoing problem, although it has mostly been attributed to foreign fleets. But the recent discovery in Malpelo could reveal that Costa Rican fishermen, like foreign fleets, are not respecting fishing laws.

“These events are not new. Unfortunately we’ve been facing issues like this since 2008,” Bessudo said. “This time, the captured boats will face a legal process. Colombia is very serious about our shark finning laws, and [the defendants] will have to pay a fine, and likely have their boats confiscated.”

Bessudo said that Colombian authorities are preparing a report on all shark finning incidents committed in Colombian waters by Costa Rican fishing vessels since 2008. She said the report will include names and other information of the Costa Rican boats involved in the recent shark kill.

“We still don’t know the names or registration numbers of the ships that Colombia is accusing of shark finning. At this point, all we can do is wait until we receive more information,” Costa Rican Environment Minister René Castro said.

In light of this and other recent high-profile shark finning cases, Castro met last week with Costa Rican environmentalists “to find strategies to fight against loopholes in the fishing law,” Castro said.

According to Costa Rica’s environment minister, the administration’s next step is to prepare for the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, to be held in Thailand. “We need to work together with Colombia, Ecuador and Panama, [as] our four countries are responsible for protecting the Pacific marine corridor. Our goal is to be able to present a project that will help put a number of shark species on the endangered list and ban the [shark-fin] trade,” Castro said.

Randall Arauz, president of the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma), said that government officials need to work harder to enforce fishing laws.

“For years we’ve been struggling, [because] both foreign fleets and the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute [Incopesca] mock the fishing law and find loopholes in it,” he said. “By helping CITES realize that the hammerhead shark is an endangered species, we are moving forward. … Incopesca needs to be reformed, and that is a priority.”

Castro asked Pretoma to prepare scientific evidence to present at the 2013 CITES meeting and that proves that shark species are declining. Officials then hope to push for a worldwide ban on shark finning.

Until then, Castro and other regional environmental officials are expected to look at joint strategies to help protect the Pacific marine “corridor,” a prime hunting ground for shark finners, both foreign and domestic.

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