By Jaime Lopez
Earlier this week, officers from the National Coast Guard Service of Costa Rica boarded a fishing vessel in the Bay of Quepos and found various shark carcasses that had been caught for the sole purpose of hacking off their fins. According to a press release by the Ministry of Public Security, the boarding took place when the suspected shark fin poachers least expected it: Around 4:30 in the morning.
The report by Coast Guard Director Martin Arias explains that officers from Station Quepos set off on dawn patrol after reviewing intelligence reports that pointed to illegal fishing activity taking place under cover of darkness. Patrol boat GC 38-16 came across fishing vessel (FV) Doña Inés, registration number PQ-8615, and initiated boarding procedures. In the fish hold, the officers found fresh sailfish catch that was used to poorly conceal the nefarious cargo of dead sharks with their fins crudely sawed off. The Coast Guard officers counted 70 shark fins and immediately established radio communications with prosecutors in the Aguirre canton.
The captain of the FV Doña Inés was placed under arrest and the boat was escorted back to Quepos, where prosecutors were waiting at the dock along with officials from the Costa Rica Fisheries and Aquaculture Institute (Spanish acronym: INCOPESCA).
Shark fishing is not illegal in Costa Rica, but shark fin poaching certainly is. The law prohibiting this ghastly practice was enacted in 2001, but since then it has undergone various amendments to patch up the loopholes used by illegal fishing crews. The most recent Executive Decree 37354 on this matter was signed by former President Laura Chinchilla in 2012 at an official act attended by Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin business empire. Shark fin poaching has been at the heart of the controversial Paul Watson affair, which has been extensively documented by The Costa Rica Star.