By Claire O'Neill McCleskey
Following years of pressure by environmental groups, Costa Rica has passed a comprehensive ban on shark finning, outlawing not only the practice itself, but also the importation and transportation of shark fins.
The executive order, which was signed by President Laura Chinchilla on October 10, closes loopholes in the country's existing legislation, which was passed in 2001 and did not include restrictions on the shark fin trade, reports Reuters. The new law imposes strict penalties on those caught finning sharks, such as fines and the loss of fishing licenses.
Pressure has mounted for years on the Costa Rican government to confront the problem, especially given the importance the country places on protecting its bountiful natural resources. According to La Nacion, up to 400,000 sharks were caught in 2011 off the coast of Costa Rica for the purpose of selling the fins, and since 2010 over 15 tons of shark fins have entered the country from Nicaragua.
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Shark finning -- in which a shark's fin is removed, often while the animal is still alive, and the rest of the body tossed back in the ocean -- is widespread along the coasts of Central America. Due to high demand in East Asia for shark fins to use in soup and in traditional medicine, shark fins now constitute a multi-million dollar industry. According to the Pew Environmental Group, shark fins can fetch up to $300 on the black market. Globally, over 70 million sharks are killed each year due to the fin trade.
Honduras has also taken steps to combat the illicit shark fin trade. In 2011, President Porfirio Lobo made Honduran waters a permanent shark sanctuary, outlawing all commercial shark fishing. In July of this year, the president burnt over 100 shark fins seized from illegal fishermen to demonstrate the government's commitment to protecting the country's many shark species.