As environmental organizations here continuetheir struggle to end the practice of sharkfinning in Costa Rican waters, a German-basedconservation group has shoved President AbelPacheco into the international spotlight forallegedly contributing to the extermination ofsharks.The International Society for Conservation andProtection of Sharks, also known as Shark projectE.V., published an open letter to Pacheco in a full pagead in the daily La Nación Sunday announcingthe President’s nomination as “Shark Enemy of theYear” for failing to stop shark finning here.Shark finning is the removal of sharks’ cartilage filledfins, which are worth hefty sums in some Asianmarkets for their alleged medicinal and aphrodisiacalqualities. In some cases, the sharks’ bodies are thrownback to sea, where they bleed to death.The practice was brought to public light in 2003,when The Tico Times published a series of investigativereports that prompted widespread discussionin the media and among environmentalgroups and government officials duringthe years that followed.Some groups here say Pacheco’s nominationexacerbates the country’s growinginternational reputation that it tolerates oreven promotes shark finning.SHARKPROJECT decided to nominatePacheco for the 2006 annual “award”based on information it collected whileproducing a documentary here earlier thisyear.After filming in Isla del Coco NationalPark, a remote Pacific island and protectedshark habitat approximately 30 hours byboat from the mainland, Sharkprojectinterviewed fishermen, Customs employeesand members of the private, nonprofitMarine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA),according to PRETOMA representativeNoah Anderson.Anderson said the investigation for thedocumentary prompted Sharkproject tonominate Pacheco for the award. The TicoTimes was not able to obtain the names ofthis years’ other nominees. The 2006 candidateis scheduled to be selected inDecember.“EVERY year, with our distinction‘Shark Enemy of the Year,’ we publiclydenounce people or nations that support,impel or contribute actively to the exterminationof sharks,” said the letter in LaNación, signed by Sharkproject presidentGerhard Wegner.“The systematic killing of sharks andespecially the practice of shark finning, isnot only cruel and inhuman, but constitutesone of the greatest threats to our worldecology,” the letter said, adding thatPacheco is guilty of “decidedly ignoringthe petition of more than 70,000 CostaRicans – including 10,000 schoolchildren,scientists and shark experts – to ban sharkfinning and enforce the Customs Law thatprohibits foreign fishing vessels fromunloading on private docks in the country.”According to Sharkproject, Pachecohas tarnished Costa Rica’s conservationistreputation by allowing regulations thatfacilitate the practice of finning. Wegnerdid not return Tico Times phone calls bypress time.PRESIDENT Pacheco and some environmentalistssay these accusations areunfounded.On Monday, Pacheco defended himselfagainst Sharkproject’s allegations in aninterview on the national radio stationRadio Monumental.“Nobody can deny my efforts to stopshark finning,” said the President, whoadded he is not worried about receiving the‘distinction,’ which for 2005 was awarded tothe King of Spain, Juan Carlos de Borbón.“I have continued fighting (sharkfinning). I sent a public letter to all (government)ministries asking them to end theatrocity of shark finning,” he told the station.On March 8, Pacheco addressed a letterto Finance Minister Federico Carrillo, askinghim to take the necessary steps to prohibitthe unloading of shark fins on privatedocks.The letter, to which the ministry hasnot yet replied, apparently was promptedby concerns about a loophole in the existingCustoms Law.WHILE the law requires importedproducts to be unloaded in public docks,including the centralPacific portcities of Puntarenasand Calderaas well as Playasdel Coco, in then o r t h w e s t e r nprovince of Guanacaste,it leavesroom for unloadingsome items atprivate docks.“The problemwith this lawis Article 211,which offers aloophole by establishing that Customsmanagers can authorize unloading on privatedocks under exceptional circumstances,”said PRETOMA presidentRandall Arauz.“Private property in Costa Rica is inviolable.When goods are unloaded on a privatedock at 2 a.m., there is basically nothingauthorities can do, legally,” Arauz said.CONSERVATIONIST organizationsand concerned residents throughout thecountry collectively sighed with relief inFebruary, when the Legislative Assemblyapproved the new Fishing and AquacultureLaw (TT, Feb. 18).The new law establishes fines andprison sentences for shark finning – but notshark fishing, which is still allowed ifshark fins are attached to the body whenthey are unloaded at a dock – and prohibitsthe capture of all cetaceans and marine turtles.The previous fishing law, which datedback to 1948, was unenforceable because itdid not clearly define penalties for fishingviolations.However, the Customs loophole meansit remains difficult to regulate shark finsbeing unloaded on private docks.“A lot of people think approval of thenew fishing law was the solution to all evil.But until the Customs Law is properlyenforced, vessels are going to continueunloading on private docks,” said PRETOMArepresentative Anderson.THE response to Sharkproject’s nominationamong Costa Rican environmentaliststhis week was mixed. Some defendedPacheco’s actions, while others said he hasnot fully exercised his powers to stop sharkfinning.Michael Rothschild, executive directorof the marine conservationist organizationMarViva, told The Tico Times his organizationdoes not agree with Sharkproject’s“personal attack campaign.”“Sharkproject has no representation inthe country and what they perceived is notour reality,” he said. “We are not trying todefend don Abel (Pacheco), but under hisadministration, solutions have been soughtfor the problem of shark finning – the newfishing law has been approved.”PRETOMArepresentative Anderson, onthe other hand, said that although the ad isregrettable, the President is the only officialwho can take action to stop shark finning.A Tico Times investigation in mid-2003 uncovered irregularities in the managementand enforcement of rules for whatwere predominantly Taiwanese fishingfleets landing shark products in Puntarenasand Caldera (TT, June 13, July 11, 18,25,Aug. 1, 8, 15, 2003).In a single night, for example, one fishingvessel carrying a Taiwanese crew flyinga Panamanian flag reportedly landedapproximately three truckloads, or 30 tons,of shark fins without the carcasses attached– as required by Costa Rican fishing regulations.A declaration report for that daysigned by four government agencies exceptCustoms made no mention of the fins.The Tico Times investigation alsorevealed that rather than help resolve theissue of shark finning, officials from theCosta Rican Fisheries Institute(INCOPESCA) actually hindered efforts tobring the issue to public light.The investigation, completed alongsidePRETOMA representatives, also showed alack of oversight from the Ministry ofAgriculture, the Customs Office and a formerPort Authority captain.