Judge in shark-finning case defends her decision on docks

The judge who set aside an agreement about the public docks in Puntarenas went public Tuesday to explain the situation. The case involves shark finning.

The judge, Rosa Maria Cortes Morales, said that no one ever mentioned anything about illegal fishing during the hearing when she issued an order temporarily suspending the agreement.

A.M. Costa Rica published a news article Monday noting the decision.

The judge is of the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo that regulates government activities.

She said in a statement that she issued the order because fishing companies said that there were insufficient refrigeration on the public docks. The public dock is the  Terminal de Multiservicios Pesqueros in Barrio el Carmen, Puntarenas.

The judge said that fishing companies received approval as long ago as 2004 from the local customs officials to use a private dock. In October the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura entered into an agreement and forbade the use of private docks after Dec. 1. The institute supervises the public docks.

That is when the litigants, Mariscos Wang S.A., Porta Portese S.A. and Transportes El Pescador S.A., went to court to protect the change. Mariscos Wang operates the private dock.

The use of the public docks allow the institute to supervise what is being loaded and unloaded. Costa Rica has a law that says sharks must be landed with fins still attached. Fishermen prefer to cut off the fins and dump the disabled shark back in the water. This save space and effort.

Environmentalists fear that permission to use private docks supports the illegal practice of bringing just the fins to port.

The fins are highly valued in Asia for use in soup. Presumably the private docks are supervised by the customs agency.

The judge also noted that her ruling was temporary and that the institute was alerted to the decision Friday. The institute’s lawyers have until tomorrow to register an objection and file for a full hearing. Even then, the judge noted, a decision can be appealed further up the judicial network.

The controversial nature of the decision and the whole issue of shark finning was highlighted by the judge’s public statements. Usually judges do not comment on their decisions. In this case, the statement was relayed through the Poder Judicial.

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