San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Marine activists urge Costa Rican president to halt shark fin imports

A modest though enthusiastic collective of some 60 marine conservation activists gathered outside the statue of former Costa Rican President León Cortés in western San José Thursday morning to protest the importation of shark fins in Costa Rica.

From June 2011 to July 2012, the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) reported that more than 500 kilograms of dry shark fin had entered the country through Nicaragua. 

Imports through Nicaragua have increased dramatically and remain the industry’s lone loophole after legislation passed in December 2010 banned the landing of fishery products on private docks, conservationists said. Since then, Costa Rica has imported nearly 16,000 kg of shark fins via their northern neighbors. 

“What we’re trying to accomplish today is to bring the issue to President [Laura] Chinchilla’s attention, and we call on her to represent the public interest, not comercial ones,” said Costa Rican Marine Turtle Restoration Project (PRETOMA) President Randall Arauz. The march represents the launch of PRETOMA’s latest campaign, which urges the Foreign Trade Ministry to prohibit all shark fin imports, and demands the reform of Incopesca.

On Tuesday, Chinchilla’s Cabinet fired Incopesca Vice President Álvaro Moreno, who is a lawyer representing commercial fishermen, for conflict of interest and ethics violations.

“The importation of shark fins is equal to finning, and finning means extinction,” Arauz belted into a bullhorn at passing traffic.

“The order needs to come from the top,” Arauz added. “Only the president can change things now.”

Rafael Robles, director of conservation group Tasbayam Association for Sustainable Development, showed his support for the movement by signing the petition being passed around, noting, “it’s not simply the poachers; it’s the poverty. We need to protect our fisherman. If they have no work, if they hope to feed their families, finning is often the only option.”

As the march continued south, protesters made stops outside of the Foreign Trade Ministry and Incopesca’s offices near La Sabana Park. A man wearing a bandana played trumpet as demonstrators reworked the Jamaican folk song “Day-O” to suit their cause: “No aleteo, los tiburones ya no pueden más.” No finning, they sang. The sharks can’t take any more.

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