Shark conservation is at risk in Costa Rica
By Sebastián Rodríguez
In Costa Rica, it’s now up to the government to decide the future of endangered hammerhead sharks. If the government halted the export of all hammerhead shark products in the next year, it could stave off extinction of these amazing creatures.
That’s the recommendation of Costa Rica’s Scientific Advisory Council for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The Convention is an international agreement to prevent trade from threatening the survival of wild animals and plants.
Of the nearly 100 species of sharks and rays in Costa Rica, 15% are in danger of extinction due to overfishing and environmental destruction or degradation. Hammerhead sharks were listed as an endangered species in 2014 and have lost up to 90% of their population.
In response, the Scientific Advisory Council recommended in April 2017 that Costa Rica should prohibit export of hammerhead products for at least one year, or until the country reduces hammerhead fishing and the health of the species improves.
The role of the fishing industry
Shortly after the Scientific Advisory Council made its recommendation, the Costa Rican government issued an executive decree. The Costa Rican Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture (Incopesca) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock were given authority over the export of products made from threatened or endangered sharks.
However, both government agencies favor the fishing industry over marine conservation, according to Mario Espinoza Mendieta, researcher from the University of Costa Rica and member of the Convention’s scientific council.
“This dynamic tips the balance in favor of the production sector,” Espinoza said.
Incopesca’s Board of Directors represent various fishing interests across the country—a position that does not always align with the protection and sustainable use of marine resources, according to Espinoza.
Recently, Incopesca was questioned because it failed to prosecute shrimping boats that were illegally fishing in protected waters.
While exporting shark products is permitted within the regulations established by the Convention, shark finning—the practice of cutting fins and throwing the shark back into the ocean—is illegal in Costa Rica. Considered a delicacy in some Asian countries, shark fins are often valued at upwards of $100 per kilo.
Last February, a Costa Rican court issued the first felony criminal sentence for shark finning against a Taiwanese businesswoman who was found in a port with illegally harvested shark fins. Using international law, AIDA and Conservation International worked with Costa Rica’s Public Prosecutor to help resolve the case.
A responsible decision
The governments of Colombia and Ecuador have developed campaigns to protect hammerhead sharks. But in Costa Rica, Incopesca is responsible for the future of the species and will hopefully take the Scientific Advisory Council’s recommendations into account. Because the hammerhead’s numbers are so low, it may only take one bad decision to cause their extinction.
Other species, including the gray shark, are also at risk from the fishing industry. If Costa Rica wants to preserve its natural wealth for the future, it should set an example of preservation by putting principles of sustainability over economic gain.