Around early 1980s a friend wanted to open up a fresh fish exporting business in Puntarenas. He found a packing house and cannery, got some investors and was ready to start exporting fresh Dorado and canned tuna. One of the things that were puzzling to him was Costa Rica fishermen were catching sharks in their long lines and gill nets. Shark at the time was a worthless meat so they were either leaving the dead carcass and/or just cutting off the fin which would eventually kill the shark. Some of the boats had small piles of fins along with their catch of dorado and snapper. My friend through it was a total waste of good meat – at the time, shark meat was becoming a more popular dish in the U.S.
With the TBA long battle and their success on banning exporting of billfish meat, management of billfish, and recently the mandatory monitors on commercial vessels, they may have to now get involved in the banning of taking shark fin. But will it happened?
Shark fins have reached an all time high, one pound of died shark fin is worth $300, one pound of fresh shark fin and the market is known to fetch $500. Shark fin soup is a popular item of Chinese cuisine since the Ming Dynasty and it is usually served at special occasions such as weddings and banquets or as a luxury item in Chinese culture.
Longlines are the most significant cause of losses in shark populations worldwide. Shark finning is widespread, and largely unmanaged and unmonitored due to Costa Rica’s many private docks, that are not only used in drug smuggling, but illegal exporting of another delicacy, billfish meat.
Animal rights activists and environmentalists have called the practice brutal and it is also named as a primary contributing factor in the global decline of many shark species.
Back in 2006, Corte Supreme de la Justicia de Costa Rica ruled that foreign ships must use public docks where their catch can be supervised, but they did not put in a provision for local commercial fishermen.
Private docks such as the ones many hotels own, are rarely monitored for what comes in terms of catch. Even if the major ones like Los Suenos have government officials that make sure fishermen have fishing license, but do little or nothing to monitor catch. And with the economy the way it has been, it is very temping for a fisherman to cut off a few fins, and make more money in one day, then two weeks of fishing. For example, just a few hundreds yards south of Los Suenos is a cove that harbors many local commercial gill netters. There is no watchdog or government group that inspects the boats coming in.
Recently, a very small number of protesters against the use of private docks staged a protest at the Corte Supreme de la Justicia Wednesday because the court had not enforced its own 2006 ruling. The protesters got very little press coverage. The only paper I know that mentioned anything about it was AM Costa Rica.
Due to China’s major investments in Costa Rica, it is pretty clear that officials are being asked to turn the other way. The practice has strong support from these Asian investors who have managed to prevent decisive and enforcement action by two presidents.