Shark fin shipment via U.S. claimed

Two conservation groups said Monday that at least two lots of shark fins have been exported from Costa Rican to Hong Kong with a stopover on U.S. soil.

The export and trade of endangered species shark fins violates U.S. environmental law, which bans shipments of endangered species products, including in transit hammerhead shark fins, the organizations said.

The organizations are the Costa Rican-based Programa Restauración de Tiburones y Tortugas Marinas and the Turtle Island Restoration Network of California.

Eastern Pacific scalloped hammerhead sharks are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, they said in a release.

“We warned the Costa Rican officials that these exports would occur in violation of the ESA, but the higher authorities of the ministry of environment decided to proceed with the exports anyway,” said Randall Arauz of the Programa. “We blew the whistle and alerted the U.S. authorities as well, with no positive response either.”

“Costa Rica’s disregard for international laws designed to protect endangered wildlife coupled with the U.S. government’s failure to enforce prohibitions on illegal shark fin shipments spells disaster for scalloped hammerhead populations,” said Doug Karpa in release. He is the legal program director with Turtle Island Restoration Network. “These unique sharks could go extinct in our lifetime if we don’t end this illegal trade,” he added.

The Programa and Turtle Island said they learned that Costa Rica exported hammerhead shark fins in December and again in February. Given the routing of cargo shipments to China from Costa Rica, these shipments clearly touched down in the U.S., where they should have been confiscated under the Endangered Species Act and thus been prevented from further trade and sale, they said. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to enforce the Endangered Species Act, and allowed the shipments to continue on to Hong Kong, they added.

Dec. 24 Costa Rica exported 906 pounds (411 kilograms) of two species of hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini and Sphyrna zygaena), and on Feb. 20 Costa Rica exported a second batch of 1,003 pounds (455 kilograms), they said.

“All scalloped hammerhead fins exported from Costa Rica derive from the endangered Eastern Pacific population that is protected under the ESA. The fact that the U.S. failed to interrupt the shipments the moment they touched down on U.S. soil, makes them an accomplice in the unregulated, international trade of shark fins,” said Maike Heidemeyer, a biologist with the Programa who investigated the shipments.

The two organizations did not say what firm or individual actually did the shipping. The Programa has waged an intensive battle for years to eliminate the practice of shark finning whereby fishermen simply cut off the valuable fins and throw the living fish back in the water to die.

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