Interpol issues warning of new slice-and-dice shark-finning method

Tipped off by Costa Rican authorities, Interpol released a purple alert Wednesday to warn countries of a gruesome shark-finning technique that could bypass some countries’ anti-finning laws.

Costa Rican law stipulates that shark fins must be naturally attached to a shark’s body in order to be landed legally and exported. The law is designed to prevent shark-finning – a practice in which fishermen catch a shark, cut off its fins and throw it back into the ocean where it dies slowly, unable to swim. Due to the popularity of the expensive Asian delicacy shark-fin soup, fins can go for as much as $700 a kilogram. The shark meat, however, has little commercial value.  

In 2011, shark-finners operating in Costa Rican waters on the ship Wang Jia Men thought they had found a loophole. By cutting away all of the shark flesh and leaving only the spinal column and a strip of skin attaching the fins, the fishermen were able to free up valuable space in their ship’s hold, while technically having the fins attached to the body, a press release from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) stated. The same method was also used by three ships from Belize in the same year.

The new method did not last long, as the president of the Pacific Coast Fishermen’s Union, Javier Catón, filed an official complaint prompting a ruling that the fins were not “naturally attached” to the shark’s body. Luis Dobles, president of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca), now faces an ongoing criminal complaint filed by a Puntarenas prosecutor for allegedly authorizing the ship to unload the sharks. He and Katy Tseng Chang, the legal representative for the Belizean boats, both face charges in Puntarenas

Dobles has denied any wrongdoing and says the charges are frivolous.

The Costa Rican Coast Guard reported the case and requested the purple notice from Interpol in August following a National Environment Security Seminar held in San José. Interpol releases purple notices to inform other countries about new criminal operation methods. The notice is intended to warn the 48 other countries with shark-finning bans that this method could skirt their current regulations.

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