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November 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Costa Rica’s Shark Finning: Is the Government in Cahoots?

from the November, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While the Costa Rican government routinely polices the waters around Cocos Island looking for shark-finning boats, the Costarican Times reports that officials captured only one during the entire month of August. Apparently, the rangers' boat radar picked up 15 boats, but they were only able to pursue one of them, in which they found fins in the hold). The small catch is not because of understaffing or malfunctioning radar, says the newspaper. No, the editors opine, "Most likely the others were Taiwanese boats that had already paid off the Costa Rican government to allow them to escape. [It] is receiving huge kickbacks for allowing shark finning in its waters.

On August 15, the editors amended the article with this update, "The boat captain who was arrested did not even get jail time nor was fined. He was let off with a slap on the wrist and was told, 'Please don't do this again.' Even when the Costa Rican government catches shark finners, it lets them go. More proof they are just in it for the kickbacks and money."

Truth, fiction or exaggeration? We asked Alan Steenstrup, owner of the Undersea Hunter, what his crew is seeing on their routine trips to Cocos. "Shark finning is a continuing problem. The park rangers do the best they can, but their funds and resources are limited. There used to be an environmental organization called MarViva patrolling at the island, and they did a phenomenal job, but unfortunately they are no longer present.

"Regarding the newspaper article, of course, it is possible there is corruption, but I would say that making such a blanket statement is going too far, especially if they are not backing it up with proof. The park rangers mainly rely on one patrol vessel, and Costa Rican laws are quite weak, which does not help in this case."

But here's some good, long-awaited news: Costa Rica passed a blanket ban on shark finning last month, closing loopholes in an existing law passed more than a decade ago that outlawed finning but allowed the transportation and importation of fins from other countries. President Laura Chinchilla also announced an investment of up to $15 million in a new radar system that will allow authorities to better identify boats breaking the ban.

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