Shark finning out of control in Costa Rica
Last week Allan Bolaños, a Pretoma marine researcher, returned from a bloody two week longline fishing trip where he observed the realities of what drives today’s fishermen to continue baiting their hooks and braving the elements.
“In my last trip on the open ocean I observed that the shark finning problem is probably worse then ever”, he said. “One species in particular, scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) are being targeted the most. You can’t sell its meat back in port, but its fins are well received.”
Hammerheads have fins that are more fibrous than fins from other species of sharks, and this is a valued characteristic in the making of shark fin soup in Asia. But all hammerhead fins are not the same. A crew member, on terms of anonymity, said that the most valuable fin on a hammerhead isn’t the iconic dorsal fin but rather the caudal fin, or “timon” in Spanish. This small fin is located on the underside of the tail. Back at the dock a kilogram of these “timones” sells for 42 thousand colones or about 84 dollars. According to the crew member, a kilo of dorsals will only fetch 20 thousand ($40).
Once a hammer head is hooked on a longline, it’s brought close enough to the boat so that a crew member can use what looks like an oversized cattle prod to electrocute the animal. This doesn’t always kill the shark but it disables it enough to be brought on board where other crew members can hold it down and cut away its appendages. Every size hammerhead including males, females, pregnant females and juveniles are fair game. One pregnant female, mentioned Bolaños, had 20 pups in its wombat the time it was finned.
Shark finning is illegal in Costa Rica. In order to prevent finning, the country’s fishery law states that all sharks must be brought back to the dock with their fins naturally attached to the body. This promotes using the entire animal and limits the number of sharks that can be caught per boat because its hold is full of bodies and not just fins. But with shark meat valued a little to nothing, the practice of finning is alive and well here in paradise.
For more information about the campaign to stop shark finning in Costa Rica please contact Andy Bystrom – Pretoma’s Campaigns and Communications coordinator at email@example.com