FAR across the Atlantic tomorrow, the name of Costa Rica’s President will be dragged through the mud before members of the international press, to the dismay of some of Costa Rica’s environmentalists and the delight of others.
During a press conference at the 37th International Boat Show in Düsseldorf, Germany, an event that draws approximately 300,000 visitors from around the world each year, President Abel Pacheco will be declared Shark Enemy of 2005, a distinction earned for his alleged inertia in putting an end to shark finning in Costa Rican waters.
Widespread shark finning – the practice of chopping off sharks’ cartilage-filled fins, expensive delicacies in some Asian countries for their supposed medicinal and aphrodisiacal qualities – first came to light here in 2003 when The Tico Times published a series of investigative articles on the subject.
The “Shark Enemy” designation, awarded yearly by the German-based International Society for Conservation and Protection of Sharks, also known as SharkProject E.V., has generated divided responses from Costa Rican conservationist groups, and was scoffed at by Costa Rica’s Environment Minister, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez.
Michael Rothschild, regional director of the conservationist organization MarViva, agreed with Rodríguez, and said no other Costa Rican President has done so much for sharks.
“It does not seem fair to us. He (Pacheco) has done very important things for the management of the shark resource,” he told The Tico Times, adding that SharkProject appears to be mistaken and may have been wrongly informed.
ALMOST eight months after SharkProject nominated Pacheco for the award through an open letter in a full-page ad published in the daily La Nación (TT, May 20, 2005), Pacheco will be awarded a symbolic rusted shark-fin trophy in Düsseldorf tomorrow.
Erich Ritter, scientific advisor for SharkProject, told The Tico Times via email from Germany that Pacheco was informed in writing as soon as the deadline for participants to submit their votes arrived this week.
Though SharkProject does not invite the winner to its annual award ceremony, the award is symbolically handed over through press releases in the recipient’s country, Ritter explained.
With approximately 2,000 votes received from SharkProject members and sponsors around the world, President Pacheco became the organization’s third Shark Enemy, according to Ritter, who said SharkProject is considered one of the world’s largest and most influential shark protection organizations.
Ritter said Pacheco, who succeeded the Republic of the Maldives in 2003 and the King of Spain, Juan Carlos de Borbón, in 2004 as Shark Enemy, beat out another prominent candidate: the European Union.
He said Pacheco was selected for “his misconduct in shark conservation” and “abuse of his political position.” “Although during his term shark-related laws have come into effect, special agreements and exemptions annulled some of the crucial laws again. And so, President Pacheco is ultimately responsible for the disastrous situation of sharks within the nation’s waters,” he said.
Last year, a new Fishing Law that punishes shark finning with prison and fines higher than those established by the previous law, which dated back to 1948, was approved by the Legislative Assembly (TT, Feb. 18, 2005).
HOWEVER, with the authorization of more than 20 legislators, by May, the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) – the agency in charge of enforcing the law – approved an interpretation of it that allowed shark finning to continue by permitting vessels to unload fins tied with nylon and ropes to shark bodies, because the law established that finning is to be allowed only when sharks are “unloaded at docks with their respective fins attached to the body” (TT, July 8, 2005).
The Government Attorney’s Office later pronounced that fins should be adhered naturally to shark bodies (TT, Dec. 23, 2005), an order the fisheries institute chose to ignore.
INCOPESCA spokesman Hugo Solano told The Tico Times this week that despite the pronouncement, after receiving legislators’ authorization in May, the institute has continued to allow the unloading of artificially attached fins.
“The criteria that weighed more (than the Government Attorney’s Office) was that of the Legislative Assembly,” Solano said.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS in the country have expressed differing views regarding the SharkProject award.
Following the President’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Environment Minister Rodríguez told The Tico Times SharkProject is an organization “of very little seriousness.”
He criticized them for giving the award to a President who, according to Rodríguez, has made his opposition to shark finning obvious from the start of his administration.
“Why not give it to the President of Taiwan?” he asked, emphasizing that countries where shark fins are widely consumed should receive more attention from SharkProject.
Rothschild agreed, citing the passage of the Fishing Law last year, with its severe clauses against finning, as one of the Pacheco administration’s most important achievements.
MarViva is completely against shark finning, but condemning a country and its President for the practice is wrong, he said.
“I would give the award to the people who do long-lining (fishing with lines of hundreds or even thousands of hooks that often incidentally hitch turtles and other marine species) and to the shark finners, not to a country or its President,” he said.
PRETOMA president Arauz expressed his full agreement with SharkProject, however, and this week traveled to Germany to deliver a speech during the award ceremony.
“Pacheco, as President, should simply order that the law be enforced in Costa Rica. Shark management (in the country) is simply capricious and finning continues unsanctioned,” he said Wednesday, the day before departing to Germany.
According to Arauz, whose travel expenses were covered by SharkProject, the negligence that allows finning to continue is as much INCOPESCA’s as Customs’ responsibility, because Customs is responsible for inspecting the country’s docks and the items unloaded there.