President signs decree that prohibits importation of shark fins

Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas photo
Shark fins drying on a Puntarenas rooftop in a file photo

President Laura Chinchilla took the long-awaited final step Wednesday and signed a decree prohibiting the importation of shark fins and the practice itself.

The fin trade is big business in the Puntarenas area, but officials have been cracking down on the practice due to pressure from environmental groups.

In July 2011 a letter signed by 4,039 Costa Rican citizens was delivered Tuesday to President Chinchilla urging her to sign an executive decree banning shark fin imports. The letter was also signed by 324 citizens of 39 countries, from Taiwan to the United Kingdom who are concerned over shark finning and the new loophole that the foreign fishing fleet now uses to circumvent Costa Rican controls and laws.

Costa Rican officials in the Pacific port have generally been accommodating of the shark fin trade. However, the country eventually ordered that a law requiring sharks to be landed with their fin attached be respected.

The usual practice was to cut off the fins at sea and dump the still living shark overboard to die. Although shark flesh is eaten frequently on the coasts and is available in Central Valley markets, it is not a premium product.

Costa Rica then also ordered that fishing boats unload their catches at public docks where they may be inspected. And then, as Casa Presidencial noted Wednesday, shark finning is now prohibited completely.

Shark fin exporters quickly adjusted their efforts to compensate for the stronger enforcement. The Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas reported last year that the shark fins were being unloaded in Nicaragua and trucked to Costa Rica for drying and processing.

President Chinchilla signed the decree in Manuel Antonio Wednesday. It will be effective when published. However, there is a possibility that the operators of the lucrative shark finning trade may take legal action. The Chinese market for the fins is huge because soup from the fins is a great delicacy there.
Environmentalists argue that the shark is a valuable component of the marine environment, and that shark finners overfish.

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