Illegal Shark Finning Operation In Costa Rica Exposed

Taiwanese Vessel lands over 30 tons of shark fins in single trip, in violation of Costa Rica's Shark Finning Ban

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 in 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).

The illegal operation was carried out at 9:00pm 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, allowing 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 ecolabelling, or coordination of actions by the Police, the Port Authority, and the Coastguard to control landings."

"This case is conclusive proof of what we have been reporting for years, that foreign vessels land thousands of tons of shark fins in Costa Rican ports virtually unreported and unregulated," said Arauz. "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. "We don't have time to sit and do nothing while fishery legislation is debated and government wheels spin. Until effective regulations are in place, we have to halt the landing of all foreign fishing vessels in Costa Rica, before its too late", he warned.

PRETOMA 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, culminating in a full-page ad May 25 in La Nación (Costa Rica's largest newspaper) calling on the Costa Rican president to take action.

Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has openly accused the Costa Rican government of complicity with the Taiwanese Fishing Industry. "What Taiwan wants in Costa Rica, Taiwan gets. Taiwanese foreign aid to Costa Rica has come with a very high price. In return for economic assistance, the Taiwanese get to plunder Costa Rican waters without interference from law enforcement."

Captain Watson added, In May 2002, I caught a Taiwanese longliner fishing illegally in Costa Rican waters. I called the Costa Rican Coast Guard for advice and I was told that the Taiwanese were untouchable. This is a disgrace. Costa Rican conservation laws are for sale and this corruption will destroy the sharks, the turtles and many fish species in Costa Rican waters."

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been conducting patrols in the waters around Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park since 1991. Prior to the stationing of Park rangers at Cocos Island, Sea Shepherd ships stopped regularly at Cocos to chase poachers out of the waters of the Marine Sanctuary.

In 2001, The Sea Shepherd ship "Ocean Warrior" intercepted the Ecuadorian longliner "San Jose" and assisted Park Rangers in arresting the vessel for poaching. The "San Jose" was found only two miles offshore after deploying some thirty miles of longline in the Sanctuary. The crew of the "Ocean Warrior" confiscated the line and escorted the "San Jose" into the harbor where Cocos Island Rangers placed the Captain and crew under arrest.

A year later the "San Jose" was ordered confiscated by the Costa Rican courts marking the first ever confiscation of a vessel for illegally fishing in the waters of a Costa Rican National Park.

In 2002, Sea Shepherd provided three large electrical generators, a radar surveillance station, and rifles to the Cocos Island rangers to assist them with upholding conservation laws in the National Park.

Sea Shepherd involvement in Costa Rica caused great concern due to our continued exposure of illegal fishing and the failure of the Costa Rican government to stop poaching and bribery.

The Costa Rican excuse to act against Sea Shepherd came in May 2002.

Captain Paul Watson had intercepted a Costa Rican longliner illegally fishing in Guatemalan waters in April 2002 and this resulted in political pressure from the Taiwanese and other poachers in Puntarenas to have Sea Shepherd stopped. The intercepted fishermen accused Captain Watson of trying to kill them and damaging their vessel. Despite the fact that it was the word of six poachers in contrast to the crew and media on the Sea Shepherd vessel "Ocean Warrior" numbering 40, and despite having a complete video record of the interception, the Puntarenas courts ordered an arrest warrant for Captain Watson. There were no charges. The courts stated that under Costa Rican law, a person can be held for up to six months pending an investigation of an accusation. Captain Watson had no intention of serving six months without being charged and departed Costa Rica.

Sea Shepherd continues to support the Park rangers at Cocos Island National Park.

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For more information on sharks and shark finning in Costa Rica visit