San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Shark conservation

Costa Rican government rejects Shark Enemy nomination

The Costa Rican government will not sacrifice fishermen for sharks, President Luis Guillermo Solís said last week in response to claims by environmental groups that he has rolled back shark protections. Solís’s comments come a week after he was nominated for the Shark Enemy of 2016 award by the conservation NGO Sharkproject International.

“The government has said again and again that we will not abandon our fishermen for environmental issues,” Solís told the press Wednesday. “We need to find an equilibrium, especially because our coastal communities struggle with creating employment opportunities.”

According to environmental groups, Solís’ name had been in consideration for the Shark Enemy award since February, after the government signed off on the export of two shipments of shark fins belonging to endangered species of sharks. The groups solidified their decision in September, after the government announced it would no longer propose or support the inclusion of commercially important shark species into international conventions.

Environmental groups called the decisions a sign of “persistent and perverse urgency to undo shark conservation efforts,.” But the Solís government says they plan to make decisions based on the best available scientific evidence.

“Right now there is uncertainty in much of the shark population data,” Antonio Porras, chief technical advisor for the Costa Rica Fisheries Institute, told The Tico Times. “In the long term we want to have better data to make more informed conservation decisions, but in the short term we have to consider the coastal population.”

The government also released a point by point blog response to the issues brought up by Sharkproject International. The post refutes the claims that the export of hammerhead fins violated the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  The post also said Costa Rica will defer to the scientific recommendations of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission to make decisions on whether or not to limit fishing certain species of sharks.

“We don’t feel like the measures we are taking justify this reaction,” Porras said. “We aren’t abandoning shark conservation, we are just looking for a balance between fishermen and conservation.”

Editor’s note: You can read an op-ed defending the “Shark Enemy” of the year nomination for President Luis Guillermo Solís here.  

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You don’t think China or Taiwan have anything to do with this do you? With Solis attitude about the fisherman over sharks next to be fished is the marine conservation zones of Cocos island, Cano Island and Corcovado. This is not small time, small
Ball fisherman. These are large, professional operators backed by foreign governments. Costa Rica is going to sell its national heritage to the highest bidder. What’s the price for that solis?

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Joanna Nasar

These are not small-scale fisher men and local Costa Ricans. This anti-conservation policy and anti-shark policy benefits large-scale, foreign, international corporations rather than local fisherman . At the end of the day this is bad news for Costa Rica.

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Ken Morris

I’m not so sure. These are old data, but consider this:

And note: “The small-scale artisanal coastal fishery is very significant in social and economic terms in that it benefits poor fishermen.”

No doubt these fishermen sell to larger companies, who as I understand it export the shark fins to Asia, but I’m not sure who the fisherman sell to makes a lot of difference to them. Plus, even if large foreign companies are involved in fishing in Costa Rica’s waters (as they appear to be with tuna), this doesn’t change the fact that that the small fishermen still depend upon it for their livelihoods.

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Rick Cowan

How very sad. We had planned a vacation to the “ecologically advanced” nation of Costa Rica..but after reading about this, the murder of the guy protecting the sea turtles and seeing video of beach goers swarming turtles trying to lay their eggs, we can’t invest in your country. The $3-4,000 we would’ve spent may be a drop in the ocean but it’s the only way we can express our disappointment with your country’s increasingly destructive policies.

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Ken Morris

It’s good for people to be concerned about sharks, but also good for people to be concerned about people. Solís is quite clear that he wants to find a balance between the two, but at the moment is favoring fisherman.

A subtext that nobody’s mentioning is that an impoverished former fishing industry is also the breeding grounds of drug trafficking, with all the organized crime and murders that it is bringing into the country.

Neither is tourism the alternative (much less the goose that laid the golden egg). These areas already have thriving tourism industries, but these don’t provide enough jobs to absorb the fishermen who can’t make a living fishing.

Also, since when do people call spending $3-4000 on a vacation an “investment” in their vacation destination, as another post does? I have gone to Disneyworld and spent a bunch of money there, but it never occurred to me to consider myself “investing” in Disneyworld. I was just buying what I wanted (or rather my kid wanted). It’s only when people vacation in poor countries in which they feel superior that they call their consumer expenditures an “investment,” and it’s condescending.

For anyone who truly wants to invest in Costa Rica, might I suggest a coastal industry that employs former fisherman? Tourism clearly isn’t enough.

And hey, these kinds of investments might save sharks too.

Of course, the alternative is to save the sharks, ignore the fisherman as well as the drug trafficking, and sip drinks with little umbrellas in them at seaside resorts while fancing yourself an environmentalist investing in a God forsaken backwater simply for buying what you want.

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