Crime Highlights Need For International Cooperation In Marine Protection

(San José, Costa Rica – June 4, 2003). On Saturday, May 31, the Taiwanese vessel “GRUIDA U RUEY 1” landed 30 tons of shark fins in the Costa Rican port of Puntarenas. This is a direct violation of a February 2001 Costa Rican regulation that makes it illegal to land shark fins and requires landing of only whole sharks (with fins attached).

Shark finning is the practice of cutting the fins off of sharks, often while sharks are alive. Sharks are then thrown back into the ocean alive and dying. Shark populations are being decimated by this practice (as well as by other forms of fishing) thereby depleting a critically important part of the food web.

Shark fins are a delicacy and are in great demand for shark-fin soup, an ancient delicacy that can sell for as much as $120 a bowl. Hong Kong is the main importer of shark fins but Malaysia, Singapore and mainland China are also major shark fin markets. The large market size and the high value placed on shark fins encourage illegal shark finning.

The illegal operation in Costa Rica was carried out at 9:00 PM when no port inspectors were on duty, but was witnessed by Costa Rican Coast Guard personnel, who ironically, had no authority to intervene because the violation occurred on a private dock.

On Monday, June 2, while inspectors were on duty, the Taiwanese vessel then tried to land the legal products that were in its hold. Under extreme pressure from environmental groups, the Costa Rican Fishery Institute (INCOPESCA) has ordered an investigation and has not allowed the vessel to land.

“This massive landing of shark fins is simply irresponsible and unsustainable,” said an alarmed Irene Boza, Coordinator of the Costa Rican Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s (PRETOMA’s) Shark Campaign. “Since shark fins make up only 5% of a shark’s body weight, we estimate that over 30,000 sharks were killed and finned by this vessel alone on this single fishing expedition,” she said.

“The ease with which foreign vessels violate Costa Rican finning regulations is appalling,” said Randall Arauz, President of PRETOMA. “Simply put, to avoid Costa Rican law, vessels know all they must do is unload their illegal contraband on Saturdays or Sundays, or in the evenings when INCOPESCA inspectors are off-duty. Then, when inspectors are on duty, they land the rest of their catch legally and act as if they are playing by the rules,” denounced Arauz.

Last year (March 12, 2002), PRETOMA filed a lawsuit against INCOPESCA for not enforcing its own shark finning regulations effectively. Unfortunately, on May 14, 2002, the Court let INCOPESCA off the hook, ruling that the agency lacked the necessary economic and human resources to carry out effective controls. This allows for continuation of infrequent random inspections that, Arauz commented, “are totally ineffective and make a mockery of Costa Rican laws intended to protect natural marine resources.”

“Due to the state of emergency and to the current limited capacity of the Costa Rican government to carry out adequate enforcement, the best solution is to forbid the landing of fishery products by foreign fleets,” said Vicky Cajiao, of AMBIO Foundation and Legal Consultant to PRETOMA. She continued, “There are several other solutions to this problem, such as requiring foreign fishing vessels to allow and pay for Costa Rican observers on their vessels, independent eco-labelling, or coordination of actions by the Police, the Port Authority, and the Coastguard to control landings.”

“Costa Rica is a major fisheries player of the region, and will be viewed in the future either as the culprit for the collapse of oceanic ecosystems, or as a country leading the way towards a responsible and sustainable fishing industry,” informed Arauz.

PRETOMA is the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s Costa Rican partner. It has organized a coalition of dozens of Costa Rican and international organizations, politicians and over 4,000 citizens from all over the globe to protest the current situation and call for strong protection of Costa Rica’s marine ecosystems from illegal fishing activities. For more information on sharks and shark finning or about PRETOMA visit:

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) is a California-based ocean conservation organization that works to protect sea turtles and other marine species in the United States and in countries around the world. For more information about STRP visit:


Photo/Tassapon KRAJANGDARA