A government order has barred international fishing boats from landing in the central Pacific port of Puntarenas.
Three Belizean fishing boats: the Dragon 28, el Yu Long 6 y el Conchita VIII, are anchored just outside the port, awaiting to unload their catch.
On shore, environmentalists have hailed the ban as a victory against illegal landings of sharks and their valuable fins, which they say takes place “after-hours” on such docks.
Government officials have called it a mistake.
The order, which came from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT), prohibits landings of international boats at private docks until they prove compliance with a mandate from the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV).
The mandate requires that private docks provide facilities for government inspectors, allowing for full disclosure and enforcement.
Enacted two years ago, the measure was intended to ensure transparency and prevent the now illegal practice of shark-finning, the lucrative practice of slicing fins off sharks while they are still alive, then throwing the less valuable bodies back to sea.
Recent “pro-shark” campaigns launched by Costa Rican environmental groups Marviva, based in Rohrmoser, and the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA) called for the government to review its policies and tighten controls at the docks, which many believe continue to allow illegal shark landings.
Environmental groups last week believed their wishes had been granted, but were only cautiously optimistic.
“The decision is temporary. There is tremendous pressure from the owners of these docks, and the boats, to permit the offloading of sharks again,” said Randall Arauz, of the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA).
Government officials have already begun to hedge on the decision.
Héctor Arce, of the Costa Rican Port Authority, a division of MOPT, explained that the ministry only certifies public docks, not private docks, and as such, should not have called for the closure.
He said the ban on the landing of international fishing boats in Costa Rica resulted from confusion – and was a mistake.
“It is up to the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute and Customs Officials to certify docks for shark landings, not MOPT,” he said.
Bernard Chavarria, a lawyer for the Costa Rican Longliner’s Association and the National Fisheries Federation, agreed. He said the government was already complying with the law, and that the order had resulted from a misunderstanding.
“Some groups have implied that there is no enforcement at these private docks, but it is simply not the case,” he said.
According to a statement issued by Carlos Villalobos, president of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA), the ban is temporary, and an enforcement code is in process that would allow landings to begin again shortly.
“The new code will guarantee that government authorities have the facilities necessary to do their work, according to customs, environmental and fisheries laws,” he wrote. Marvin Mora, the institute’s technical director, said officials were actively looking for ways to re-open the docks in the meantime, while complying with the court’s decision.
“By closing the docks, you’ve appeased one sector, but angered another.We need to find a solution that works for everyone,” he said.
To end the long-standing dispute, Arauz has called on President Oscar Arias to sign a moratorium that would require international boats to discharge only where public facilities are present – on either public or private docks.
“All we’re asking for is that boats land at docks with public infrastructure. As Costa Ricans, we shouldn’t have to ask permission of private dock owners to ensure that the law is being complied with,” he said.