While a recently enforced Costa Rican customs policy is proving effective at keeping foreign shark-finning fleets out of private docks here, it has fallen short of expelling the lucrative shark trade from the region.
Shortly after Costa Rica began the enforcement of its General Custom Law, requiring foreign vessels to unload their cargo at public docks, there are signs that some ship captains may be moving their operations to Nicaragua.
“Just like what happened with the private dock issue in Costa Rica, now in Nicaragua we have a similar problem,” said Fabio Buitrago of the Nicaraguan environmental organization Fondo Natural.
Buitrago said in a press release from the Costa Rican environmental organization Pretoma that their requests to supervise landings of foreign vessels in Nicaragua have been denied access to that country’s fisheries terminal, by both land and water. The landings, which likely contain shark fins among the catch, are conducted at night, he added, preventing environmentalists from observing the operations.
Concerned over the change in venue of the, Nicaraguan environmental organizations alerted officials at the country’s Environmental and Natural Resource Ministry, as well as Nicaragua’s fisheries vice minister, Danilo Rosales. But they say they have yet to receive a response from government officials.
On April 30, observers photographed the vessel Hung Chi Fu 68, flying a Belizean flag, landing its cargo in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, on the Pacific coast. The same boat, under a previous name, was documented unloading cargo at the Mariscos Wang private dock in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. From 1998 until last year, when the enforcement of the Customs Law began, Puntarenas was one of the hubs for the foreign fleet shark fin trade in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
As a result of the law’s enforcement, the Hung Chi Fu was caught unloading 2,000 kilograms of sharks without fins, which is against Costa Rican regulations. The boat’s Taiwanese captain was fined $36,000.
“Without a doubt, the recent sentence against the Taiwanese captain triggered this new move of the foreign fleet to Nicaragua,” said Pretoma President Randall Arauz. “Regional policy against the free operation of foreign fleets is essential, as we know that both Panama and Belize facilitate the use of their own flags to these unscrupulous business owners, and that shark fins are landed by them in Panama, El Salvador, and Guatemala” (TT, March 24).
Pretoma is currently investigating whether or not fins are being shipped directly to Asia from Nicaragua or being first trucked into Costa Rica.