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article imageShark finning in Costa Rica decimates world's sharks Special

By Megan Hamilton     Aug 7, 2014 in Environment
Puntarenas - In Costa Rica, pirates are alive and well, but instead of searching for gold, they are finding ways around legal loopholes and killing thousands of sharks. They are doing this so that people in China can impress guests with a bowl of shark fin soup.
Costa Rica laws make it illegal via the Fishery Law of 2005 to land sharks on boats unless their fins are attached. Taiwanese shark finners were vehemently opposed to the law and they tried every angle to get around it, said Randall Arauz, president of the Costa Rica Sea Turtle and Shark Restoration Project (PRETOMA). This reporter has known Arauz for some time, and he and other members of the project work tirelessly to protect sharks and sea turtles.
“Taiwanese shark finners have been figuring out ways to circumvent shark finning laws since 2001," Arauz told Digital Journal. "They were strongly opposed to Costa Rica's 'fins attached' system that mandates that in Costa Rica, sharks must be landed with fins attached."
The finners operated in cruel and intimidating ways — and found a sneaky way around the law through the process of “spining.” This involves leaving the fins attached to the spine by thin strips of flesh, while the rest of the flesh is carved away, per Vice News.
While former President Laura Chinchilla banned shark finning in 2012, per The Tico Times, the unscrupulous finners had already built private docks that were protected by barbed wire and armed guards. Here, the docks had operated as criminal compounds for this illicit trade for years, Vice News reports.
It was so bad, in fact, that at one point, Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his crew traveled to Costa Rica in 2011 in order to showcase this illegal and barbaric trade. He and his crew found out just how dangerous some of these people could be.
An amazing photo depicts a family of sharks.
An amazing photo depicts a family of sharks.
Shiyam ElkCloner
“We traced some of the biggest culprits to Costa Rica. The day before we got there, a Taiwanese crew landed a haul of hammerhead sharks — police searched the boat and found bales of cocaine,” he told The Telegraph. “These gangs operate from places that are like forts, with barbed-wire perimeters and gun towers.”
At one point, Ramsay managed to run upstairs — breaking away from the gang members who were holding him hostage. When he did, he looked down and saw shark fins drying on rooftops for as far as the eye could see.
When Ramsay got back downstairs, the gang members reportedly doused him with a barrel of gasoline and cars with blacked out windows appeared out of nowhere. Fortunately, a car associated with his TV show was close by, and he and crew members made a break for it, jumping in the car and escaping, The Telegraph reports.
The gruesome practice known as spining finally came to a head in 2011 when a Taiwanese fishing boat owned by Kathy Tseng, a Taiwanese-Costa Rican national who has ties to large seafood companies, was seized by officials on charges of shark finning, per Vice News. In Tseng’s case, customs officials unloaded 332 shark carcasses from the ship’s hold. All had been spined.
Justice in Costa Rica moves with the speed of a dead sloth, and it is perfidious. Prosecutors had hoped to make an example of this horrific practice once and for all, Vice News reports. Sadly, the opposite occurred and in April 2014, a judge absolved Tseng of all crimes and ordered the state to pay over $6,500 in compensation for the seized fins.
This caused much distress and shark advocates were worried that once again the doors would swing open for legalized spining as well as prompting a resurgence in illegal shark finning, which had been on the decline following the passage of stricter legislation, per Vice News.
Fortunately, Chinchilla put a stop to this tragic situation by issuing a mandate that said foreign boats must land at public docks.
“Now, foreign boats MUST land in a public dock first…enough to make most of the boats just leave,” Arauz said. While this is certainly a victory for sharks in Costa Rican waters, the Taiwanese fishing vessels merely dock their boats in Guatemala and El Salvador, he added.
“All we needed was existing laws to be abided by,” he said. “Why think of all these new regulations, when we have existing ones which implemented, mitigate the situation significantly.”
Finning is cruel and wasteful. Shark fins can be sold for as much as $650 per kilogram. Once the fins are sliced off of the shark, the animal is thrown back into the water while still alive. Unable to swim, it either bleeds to death or is attacked by other sharks, per
Even though Chinchilla banned shark finning, along with the importation and transportation of shark fins, the law was rarely enforced and terrible damage has been done. Estimates provided by conservation groups show that the relative abundance of sharks in Costa Rican waters declined by 60 percent between 1991 and 2001. Cocos Island, a renowned diving spot famed for its sharks, has lost more than 70 percent of some species of hammerhead sharks due to finning and overfishing, per Vice News. The government estimates that some 350,000-400,000 sharks were killed in Costa Rican waters for their fins in 2011. All so that vain people in China can impress their friends with a $150 bowl of shark fin soup, The Tico Times reports.
Enhanced image of a blacktip shark
Enhanced image of a blacktip shark
Beauty Animals
If it were possible to illustrate greed with one image, perhaps a bowl of glutinous shark fin soup would do the trick.
The problem is compounded by the fact that Costa Rican boats can still use their own private docks. Costa Rican law allows for this, Arauz said.
“They fin at sea, but then they land the fins in the privacy of their own docks,” he noted.
Nicaragua, which borders Costa Rica, is also a guilty party involved in the shark finning tragedy.
“About 30 tons of shark fins cross into Costa Rica every year from Nicaragua,” Captain Paul Watson, of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, told Digital Journal in a written correspondence. Finding a connection between the two countries is something that’s difficult to prove, he noted. “…It can’t be proven unless there is a trail proving the movement of the shark fins into Costa Rica from Nicaragua.”
Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson
In an opinion piece, he noted that Costa Ricans are heavily involved in this trade of fins from Nicaragua and the shark fin industry in both countries is linked.
“There are some very well connected people making a great deal of money, and that kind of money buys influence,” he wrote in the article. When it comes to prosecuting people charged with spining or finning, some judges can be lenient, especially if money is involved.
“Not guilty verdicts can be secured in Costa Rica for the right price,” he told Digital Journal. “The remedy is to make shark fins 100 percent illegal.”
This means that any existing loopholes must be filled.
“We are trying to improve controls at ports, and also reduce fishing effort…but these are tough measures to propose,” Arauz said. Strictly enforcing these laws would further enable organizations like PRETOMA to do what is necessary to protect sharks in Costa Rica.
Sharks have been cruising the world’s oceans for nearly 450 million years. They have survived catastrophic events that caused five major extinctions. They have proven to be tough and resilient, but their numbers are plunging.
Worldwide, sharks killed 12 people in 2011. Humans, on the other hand, killed 11,417 sharks per hour. It’s believed that people kill 100 million sharks every year, but that number could actually be as high as 273 million per year.
Sharks are apex predators and are at the very top of the food chain. Like wolves, lions, and other top predators they remove the sick and the weak, and this strengthens the gene pool of prey species. The strongest, largest, and healthiest fish reproduce in greater numbers, and therefore the outcome is larger numbers of healthier fish, according to
Scientists consider sharks to be a “keystone” species, and if they are removed from an ecosystem it collapses. It’s for this reason that if a food chain loses its apex predators, other species may vanish as well. Scientific studies have shown that the depletion of sharks results in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species — this includes fisheries such as tuna, which help to keep coral reefs healthy, SharkSavers reports.
Sharks are magnificent creatures, and there are many beautiful species, but we show them no kindness and little respect. Which is truly sad, considering all that they do for the world’s oceans. They are dying for vanity — for the human superiority complex.
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