Ten tonnes of hammerhead shark fins, stored in Costa Rican warehouses and obtained during a ban on the export of shark fins, are awaiting export approval from the Costa Rican Fisheries and Aquaculture Institute (INCOPESCA).
Ten tonnes of hammerhead shark fins have been in storage in Costa Rican warehouses since 1st March 2015, when the government issued a ban on the export of hammerhead shark fins as part of its Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) obligations. The fins were obtained and stored during the export ban and any attempt to export them is considered a violation of CITES. 12,000 individuals and 22 global Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are petitioning the government to stop any export attempt.
Cocos Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site off Costa Rica, is famous for its population of Scalloped hammerhead sharks, premier shark diving and Costa Rica liveaboard diving. The area is vulnerable to illegal shark fishing and the Scalloped hammerhead is listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. This hammerhead shark species, along with other hammerheads, is in need of protection; both to secure the health of Costa Rica’s ocean ecosystem and protect the thriving Costa Rica diving industry.
In 2013, the Costa Rican government led an international campaign to list endangered hammerhead sharks under Appendix II of CITES, in an effort to limit international trade of shark products and improve hammerhead shark conservation in Costa Rica.
‘In March 1 of 2015, Costa Rica became one of the world’s few countries to ban the export of hammerhead shark fins. In spite of this bold and visionary step, the ban has had no positive impact on hammerhead shark conservation,’ stated Isabel Naranjo, the president of CREMA, a Costa Rican non-profit marine conservation organisation, in a letter to the President of Costa Rica dated February 19, 2018.
Naranjo explains ‘the Costa Rican Fishery authority, INCOPESCA, has allowed fishing efforts upon hammerhead sharks to continue at their current unsustainable levels, resulting in a stockpile of over 10 tonnes of hammerhead shark fins (possibly even 20 tonnes) in the port city of Puntarenas, waiting for a future approval to export.’
According to CITES, Costa Rica must now determine if it is possible to remove hammerhead sharks from their natural environment without putting the species population at risk, or confirm if the international trade in hammerhead sharks from Costa Rica should be banned. Studies performed by Costa Rica’s CITES Scientific Authority Representative Council in 2015 and 2017 both confirmed it was not possible to export fins sustainably.
The government has since determined the sharks are not protected under the Wildlife Conservation Law and have granted the Costa Rican fisheries authority INCOPESCA the authority to undertake its own study. The results of this study will be released in March 2018.
Well-known global NGOs including WildAid, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Fins Attached, are urging the government to stop any attempts to export hammerhead sharks and issue a Presidential Decree to permanently ban the export of stockpiled fins.
Image courtesy of the M/V Okeanos Aggressor; a 33m world class liveaboard yacht offering year round diving cruises to Cocos Island.
This article first appeared in the Costa Rican Times.