Loophole in Costa Rica's Shark Fin Law
After Costa Rica’s president, Laura Chinchilla signed her smoke and mirrors bill banning shark finning the practice continues. Costa Rica has long been one of the leading shark fin exporters. According to the government, in 2011, 350,000 to 400,000 sharks were killed for their fins in Costa Rican waters. In 2012, Costa Rica closed loopholes that allowed foreign fishing boats to circumvent the ban on finning in its waters. And now Costa Rica’s fishing industry is facing collapse of fish stocks after decades of overfishing, and selling as many shark fins as fast as possible is one way to keep bringing in revenue.
Costa Rica still allows sharks to be landed with fins attached to their bodies – another grey area. Now shark carcasses are showing up on docks stripped of flesh but with fins and spinal columns ONLY. (See Doug Hack's blog (Voice for the Voiceless) of November 12 for more details.)
Costa Rican authorities informed Interpol about this latest tactic, but how serious can they be when the president of Incopesca, Costa Rica’s fisheries authority, is under investigation for illegal shark-finning?
Sure, Costa Rica could close the loophole in its current law, but there are other agendas at play. Costa Rica recently unveiled its state-of-the-art soccer stadium, Estadio Nacional, funded exclusively by the Chinese government using only Chinese labor and materials, despite the huge unemployment in Costa Rica and bypassing Costa Rica’s strict labor laws. According to the Chinese, the stadium was simply a donation to Costa Rica. Of course, in politics nothing is ever that simple. Costa Rica agreed to sever its economic ties with Taiwan (in 2003, Costa Rica had granted Taiwan commercial fishing rights in exchange for funding various projects.) And just two weeks after the stadium opened Costa Rica made China its second-biggest trading partner by signing a free trade agreement.
The luxury status of shark-fin soup in Hong Kong and China is the primary reason why shark populations are plummeting. Shark fins may bring up to 100 times per pound as shark meat. Since fins are 5% or less of a shark’s total mass, removing most of the body, but leaving the spinal column and the fins, fishermen can skirt the law while still packing their boats with more shark fins.