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Costa Rica says it will support new shark protections despite agreements with fishermen

Wildlife experts from all over the world will converge on San José Monday to discuss international protections for shark and ray species. The meeting comes on the heels of scathing critiques from environmentalists of Costa Rica’s recent record on shark conservation.

Attendees at this second Meeting of Signatories of the Memorandum of Understanding of Migratory Sharks will consider protecting an additional 22 species of sharks and rays under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). The CMS aims to protect migratory species throughout their range, across international boundaries.

Costa Rica was chosen to host the shark meeting after successfully lobbying for international protections for hammerhead sharks at past conventions. But the country’s role as a leader in shark conservation has come into question.

Last year, the Solís administration came under fire from conservation groups for green-lighting shipments of hammerhead shark fins to Hong Kong.

Then, in January, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís received the dishonorable Shark Enemy of the Year Award, which he earned after promising fishing groups that Costa Rica would no longer support international protections for additional shark species considered of commercial interest.

The Solís administration has been outspoken in its rejection of the Shark Enemy award, insisting that the country has not backtracked on shark protections.

To prove it, the government recently came out in support of protecting additional species of sharks found in Costa Rica under the CMS. The government’s support for new protections directly contradicts the written agreements that members of the Solís administration signed last year with fishing groups.

The three species now on the table — hammerhead, silky and thresher sharks — are regularly fished in Costa Rican waters and are listed as “threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Conservationists applauded the government’s apparent return to its original support for new shark protections.

“Listing of these species under the Memorandum will provide Costa Rica with better tools to promote the regional conservation of these highly migratory species,” said Randall Arauz, president of the Costa Rican conservation organization PRETOMA and a vocal critic of the Solís administration’s previous actions on shark conservation.

The Tico Times was unable to reach fishing industry leaders over the weekend for comment.

On Monday, the government released a statement saying that the fishing sector will not face any restrictions for sustainable fishing of the shark species that it is proposing for international conservation measures.

“The country’s position achieves the necessary equilibrium between conservation, investigation and sustainable fishing of the species,” Environment Minister Edgar Gutíerrez said in the statement.

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