Leading Cost Rican Scientists Say Action is Necessary Now to Prevent Extinctions of Sharks and Leatherback Turtles
An open letter to the President of Costa Rica, Dr. Abel Pacheco, urging the protection of sharks and other endangered marine species from overfishing by foreign fleets, was published in today’s edition of La Nación, Costa Rica’s largest newspaper. The letter is signed by leading Costa Rican marine scientists from the country’s top
universities, Congressmen from four political parties, four commercial
fishing organizations, two community development associations, and over 3120 concerned citizens.
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The open letter describes the unprecedented risks local shark populations face due to the rapidly growing demand for “shark fin soup” in Asia. Sharks are being captured at alarming rates and other marine species, including critically endangered leatherback sea turtles, are being driven to extinction by their incidental capture in fishing gear targeting sharks for their fins.
The signatories also point out that Costa Rica is a very important player in the fishing industry of the region. Costa Rica has the largest domestic fleet in all of Latin America, over 550 longline vessels, and it also allows hundreds of foreign vessels from nations such as Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, to land shark products virtually under no control.
Overfishing of sharks is a great concern of Costa Rican fishermen who are collaborating with environmental groups such as the Sea Turtle Restoration Program of Costa Rica (PRETOMA). “We work directly with domestic fishermen doing scientific research to evaluate the problem, develop adequate technology, and recommend management measures in order to mitigate impacts on the marine environment,” said Randall Arauz, Director of PRETOMA. “However, we’re faced with an enormous obstacle, the magnitude of the foreign fleets. Their impact is so overwhelming that it inhibits our ability to create a sustainable shark fishing industry in the future,” he complained.
“In spite of the fact that Costa Rica’s fishery authority INCOPESCA emitted a Board of Directors Agreement in February of 2001, forbidding the landing of shark fins unless they are attached to the carcass, controls are practically null because the government has failed to allocate the needed funds to face the current lack of economic and human resources to carry out efficient controls. Moreover, there is currently no legislation to file criminal charges against fishermen engaged in illegal fishing operations, and foreign vessels take advantage of the current loophole to operate illegally in the waters of our Exclusive Economic Zone”, said a concerned Vicky Cajiao, a member of Fundación Ambio and legal consultant to PRETOMA. “The lack of interinstitutional coordination among the government entities responsible to enforce these controls (INCOPESCA, Coast Guard, Ministry of the Environment), exacerbates the problem”, she added.
In their letter, the signatories call on the President to stop all foreign fishing vessels from landing in Costa Rica until the necessary financial resources and legal framework are in place to regulate effectively. Furthermore, they are calling for the approval of a new Fishery Law that is being studied in the Costa Rican Congress. They also call for the implementation of a program which would place national observers on board national and international vessels to study shark populations, incidental sea turtle capture, and provide the technical foundation for appropriate management measures.
“We believe these measures will conform with Costa Rica’s international reputation as an environmentally concerned country and will be beneficial not only to sharks and sea turtles, but also to the people of the region who depend on a healthy and stable marine environment for their livelihood”, said Arauz.