The Facts on Costa Rica's Illegal Shark Trade

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In February 2001, the board of directors of INCOPESCA (Costa Rican Fishery Department) ratified the regulation (AJDIP-47) which demanded that sharks must be landed with fins attached. A new regulation (AJDIP-415), nullifies the former regulation and permits the landing of unattached fins, as long as they correspond to specified fin:carcass weight ratios. The regulation proposes to use "biologist regents" to check ratios and collect species data.

MYTH: This new regulation facilitates biological research.
REALITY: Species identification is severely frustrated when fins are landed unattached, or when frozen beheaded carcasses are landed without fins. On the other hand, when fins are landed attached to carcasses, species identification is facilitated.

MYTH: Fins weigh 7.7% of a shark carcass weight, or as high as 12.7% per the discretion of a biologist regent.
REALITY: A Univ. of Florida 8-year program on board commercial fishing vessels, during which more than 27,000 sharks of 28 species were studied, showed average fin weight to be 4.9% of carcass weight. The IUCN Shark Specialist Group states that shark fins should not exceed 5% of carcass weight.

MYTH: The new regulation is based on complete and exhaustive research.
REALITY: The report, upon which regulation was based, lacks sections for background, discussion and cited literature. It does not make use of the best scientific information available and reaches relevant conclusions after a two week study.

MYTH: The new regulation is designed to improve controls.
REALITY: AJDIP-415 is a watered down version of AJDIP-47. Foreign vessels were frustrated by the regulation which prohibited the landing of shark fins in Costa Rica and they went to great lengths to evade that regulation. But now using a percentage of 12.7%, the new regulation opens the door for vessels to fin more than 60% of the sharks captured, discard carcasses at sea and land unattached shark fins without violating any Costa Rican law or regulation.

MYTH: There are different types of fin cutting, in particular a cut known as the "Asian Cut" which leaves more flesh attached at the base of the fins.
REALITY: The valuable parts of shark fins are the cartilaginous rays. Any meat left at the base of the fin is ALWAYS cut off when fins are landed at port. The only possible reason for leaving meat on the fin would be to increase apparent fin weight percentages. Furthermore, when meat is left on the fins the value of the carcass is reduced, encouraging fishermen to discard carcasses at sea.

MYTH: Demanding that fins must be attached is not feasible, because it creates severe problems for storing sharks within the hold of a vessel at sea, and because fishermen need to thaw shark carcasses in order to fully remove the fins, and during the thawing and refreezing process, product quality is diminished.
REALITY: Fishermen partially cut off the fins such that they remain attached to the carcass by a strip of flesh, but can be bent to the side for ease of storing in a vessels hold. Furthermore, when fins are landed attached with this method, fishermen need not thaw the carcasses. The small final cuts to completely remove the fins can be made even when carcasses are frozen

MYTH: If a vessel lands unattached fins in violation of the terms of the new regulation, INCOPESCA will not authorize the commercialization of the products.
REALITY: If fins are landed in violation of the specified percentages, biologist regents will give a report to INCOPESCA officials. However, as shark fins are always rapidly transported from docks to undisclosed locations, by the time an INCOPESCA official sees the report, whereabouts of the fins will be unknown. INCOPESCA officials simply cannot prohibit the commercialization of fins which they do not have in their possession.

MYTH: INCOPESCA is capable of controlling the situation.
REALITY: INCOPESCA's record shows the following: foreign vessels land illegally at private docks and have illegally landed tonnes of shark fins in Puntarenas. Furthermore, foreign vessels that have been filmed fishing illegally in Costa Rica's EEZ (Shen 1 Tsay 3, of Taiwan), continue to land in Puntarenas and are not punished.

MYTH: The new regulation conforms to the UN FAO International Plan of Action for Sharks.
REALITY: Article 5.4 of the UN FAO International Plan of Action for Sharks recommends that sharks be landed with fins attached specifically to facilitate the identification of shark species for scientific research.

For additional information contact:

Randall Arauz
Programa Restauración Tortugas Marinas, PRETOMA
Sea Turtle Restoration Project, STRP
Member, Shark Specialist Group, IUCN
Tibás, San José, Costa Rica
Tel (506) 241 5227
Fax (506) 236 6017
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