A group of 35 legislators from different political partieshave signed a letter to President Abel Pacheco urginghim to create an executive decree to prohibit the practiceof shark finning and control the foreign, predominantlyTaiwanese, vessels that collect shark fins in Costa Ricanwaters and unload them on private Costa Rican docks.The letter condemns “the capricious fishing regulations”of the Costa Rican Fishery Institute(INCOPESCA), and accuses it of “facilitating sharkfinning and evading all types of effective control on thispractice, yielding irrational exploitation and the reductionof our precious marine resources.”Pacheco replied to the letter Monday, thanking the legislatorsfor their suggestions and asserting his intent to“put an end to the cruelty of shark finning.”THE practice of finning consists of slicing off sharks’cartilage-filled fins, worth $200/kg in some Asian markets,and returning their bodies to the ocean, where thesurvivors bleed to death. Fins are valued for their allegedaphrodisiac and medicinal qualities, and are commonlyground into a powder to make soup, which can cost up to$60 per bowl (TT, June 18).Pacheco said he agrees “in principle” with the legislators’proposed decree, and said he awaits an answer fromthe Minister of the Environment and the Fishery Institute’spresident, Ligia Castro, whom he has consulted on thesubject.In addition to the legislators’ efforts to change the fishinglaw, the non-profit organization for marine protectionMarviva, with the support of the Ministry of Environmentand Energy (MINAE), plans to launch a two-week TV andradio campaign Monday to promote the slogan “Without afishing and aquiculture law, impunity will prevail.” The campaign includes a TV commercial thatshows scenes of sharks swimming in theocean being splattered with blood, anddeclares an end to shark finning rests inlegislators’ hands.MARVIVA also sent a letter to thePresident on Wednesday urging him tosign a decree banning shark finning.Representatives of the environmentalorganization told journalists the mainproblem with the existing law is theimpunity of shark finning vessels. Theyhope the new fishing law will be approvedby the Legislative Assembly during theextraordinary sessions that start Dec. 1,and wish to inspire citizens to contribute tothis cause by visiting their Web site atwww.marviva.net and sending mail toPresident Pacheco.FISHERMEN Alvaro Reina, EliezerMorales, and William Carrion, from thePacific port town of Puntarenas, said at theMarviva press conference Wednesday theysupport the fishing law because they seekequality.Now, Reina said, “only local fishermenare sanctioned for activities like fishingin protected areas. Shark finning isdone mainly by Asian vessels; they used tohire us years ago, and we would do itbecause the money situation in Puntarenasis not good, but these days they come withtheir own crews. They get sanctioned lessthan locals, if they get sanctioned at all.”Morales alleged “there are politics”behind INCOPESCA’s “preferential”treatment of the Asian vessels, which, intheir letter to the President, the legislatorsmention “in the context of the recent corruptionscandals that have shaken ourcountry.”Questionable donations from the governmentof Taiwan to former PresidentMiguel Ángel Rodríguez (1998-2002),who is in preventive detention while he isinvestigated on corruption charges (seeseparate article), last month promptedsome legislators to call for breaking tieswith Taiwan (TT, October 22).Morales alleged Asian vessels are“leaving local fishermen withoutresources. In three hours they take asmany fish as we do in days, and dumpwhat they don’t need back in the water.”ACCORDING to the Sea TurtleRestoration and Responsible FishingProgram (PRETOMA), shark finning isresponsible for a 60% decrease in sharkpopulations in Costa Rican waters duringthe past 10 years, with the hardest-hitspecies being the hammerhead, a sharkthat can grow up to 6 meters.Shark fin products, including soups,cakes, desserts, cookies, bread, and otheritems are considered delicacies in Chinaand Taiwan, in a tradition that dates backto 4th century B.C., when shark fin wasconsumed only by wealthy noblemen.Today, the market has spread to Japan andKorea, among other Asian countries, andthe United States, and is consumed by anestimated 250 million people worldwide(TT, July 25, 2003).An estimated 150-200 million sharksaround the world die because of thispractice every year, including youngsharks before they reach reproductiveage.PRETOMA’S Responsible FishingCampaign Coordinator, Edgar Castillo,explained the greatest problem in CostaRica is the law that prohibits customsinspections of ships landing on privatedocks.He alleged there are 15-30 secret boatlandings at private docks per month, forwhich vessels do not obtain the requiredauthorization from Customs inspectors.“By law, the Customs director mayauthorize landing at a private dock in caseof an emergency. This law is beingstretched to allow these landings regularly,”he said.An INCOPESCA regulation that tookeffect on Nov. 2, 2003, allowed shark finsto be unloaded at private docks with thesupervision of professional biologistsfrom the Biologists’ Association.In March, PRETOMA filed a lawsuitagainst INCOPESCA, the Customs Office,and the Division of Navigation and PortSecurity of the Ministry of Public Worksand Transportation (MOPT), for failing toproperly inspect vessels. (TT, March 12).THE Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) ruled that theCosta Rican Customs Office violated theConstitution by allowing tons of shark finsto be unloaded at private docks withoutinspectors present (TT, June 18).The court concluded that in allowingthe landings, the Customs Office violatedArticle 50 of the Constitution, whichguarantees all Costa Rican citizens theright to a healthy and balanced environment.Ombudsman José Manuel Echanditried to visit several private docks inPuntarenas in September, and was deniedentrance to all but one (TT, Sept. 3).Echandi said this week theOmbudsman’s Office has been fighting the“over-exploitation” of sharks and othermarine species for almost three years, duringwhich time the establishment of a newfishing law has been impossible.“There are strong interests against it,although it is needed urgently,” he said.IN related news, officials from theDirect Taxation Agency announced theyraided three offices in Puntarenas and twoin Sarchí, west of San José, on Tuesdayseeking information on the possible taxevasion of a Puntarenas seafood companycalled Inversiones Cruz Zeta de Puntarenas.José Armando Fallas, general managerof the Taxation Agency, said in astatement the company is dedicated mainlyto exporting shark fins.
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