When the hunters attack each other, the loot wins

Due to recent events – Sharkproject informs:

When the hunters attack each other, the loot wins

Imagine: several predators chase a prey animal and their alimentation depends on whether they eat the prey. But the predators do not only chase their common goal, but also try to bite their competitors throughout the whole chase in order to weaken them so that they can no longer keep up. As an effect, all hunters are slower due to the distraction, which allows the prey to escape. The hunters stay hungry.

Evolutionary, such hunting technique would not prevail, so there is no such situation in nature.

But that does not prevent people to again act against nature, against evolution:

Conservation organizations, as one would expect, should collaborate, communicate and exchange ideas. It may not be conducive to the common goal, when energy is spent to weaken each other. The one who understands evolution of the survival of the fittest in this sense, did not understand it at all. No organization is the measure of things, no organization alone could solve the enormous task which is the protection of species on our beautiful planet.

Nevertheless, we are witnessing just that. Garnished with personal attacks (which is known to automatically weaken any serious criticism) SHARKPROJECT is being accused of being uninformed and of having been lulled by and in Costa Rica.

We counter the criticism concerning this case: We are neither uninformed nor have we been lulled.

Fundament of the conferment of the award “SHARKPROJECT GUARDIAN of the Year 2013” to the President of Costa Rica, Mrs Laura Chinchilla Miranda, are the positive events in Costa Rica over the past months. The story is in fact slightly more complex:

More than 10 years ago, at the beginning of the long fight which SHARKPROJECT has fought together with PRETOMA (the Costa Rican shark protection), we made the first films about the machinations of the finning mafia in the private docks of Puntarenas at all. Together with PRETOMA we organized demonstrations, pressed criminal charges – but we fought against a wall of corruption, against an overwhelming shark fin lobby. Despite all protests, Costa Rica remained the main hub for shark fins.

But we did not give up. We funded and showed TV spots, and we voted the former President of Costa Rica, Abel Pacheco de la Espriella, “SHARKPROJECT SHARK ENEMY of the Year 2006” – combined with a full-page ad in the largest daily newspaper in the country, “La Nación”. Afterwards, it became quite heavy for ourselves when the first threatening letters and harassments reached us in Germany.

Since we did not let ourselves be impressed, we continued our fight, though almost hopeless in the face of the obvious power of the opposite side. In this phase, Gerhard Wegner’s novel “Finning”, which starts in Costa Rica, and in which the machinations of finning mafia are told along with many personal experiences, was created. With the money from the book’s sales we kept continuing the seemingly hopeless fight in Costa Rica.

Then Mrs. Chinchilla Miranda was elected president of Costa Rica. Against fierce opposition, she closed the private docks in 2010.The finning industry reacted quickly and started importing the fins from that moment on through Nicaragua – everything remained the same, only the route became longer.

Conjoined with PRETOMA, SHARKPROJECT reacted with a great action – we published a full page ad in the newspaper “La Nación” including with our campaign and a petition list. Hereafter, the President surprised again when she personally handed over a completed petition list, with signatures which her son had collected at school to Randall Arauz, President of PRETOMA.

She showed that she had understood and one year later, on December 1st, 2012, she also followed up on her promise to entirely prohibit the import of shark fins in Costa Rica. Therefore, the import through Nicaragua and other countries has been stopped as well.

As Costa Rica then announced to make applications for and to support the protection for hammerhead sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks and manta rays at the upcoming CITES meeting, the constant positive change in the government of a country that we had declared the shark enemy of the year in 2006 was from our point of view crucial for a nomination for the “SHARKPROJECT GUARDIAN of the Year 2013“.

Along with the award ceremony a few days ago, “El Aleteo”was presented, the Spanish edition of the novel “Finning”, which can now be acquired in Costa Rica. The proceeds from the sale of this anti-finning novel supports the further work of the organization PRETOMA. Their current campaign is directed against the tradional consumption of shark meat in the country. Next to us, the Costa Rican President is once again supporting this campaign.

In addition, in her acceptance speech at the award ceremony, Mrs Chinchilla Miranda promised a further change in the law, in order to ensure the sustainable reproduction of the animals.

We see all of this as a whole and as an incredible change of Costa Rica, mainly brought about by Mrs Chinchilla Miranda. The struggle in Costa Rica is far from being over, but the positive changes are obvious. This is also the opinion of those on the spot who deal with the matter. Doubters may contact Randall Arauz, President of the internationally award-winning organization PRETOMA. Together with Gerhard Wegner, he handed over the award on November 27th, 2013. He is as well our witness that we are not an “obscure” organization that does not exactly know what it does.

This new award ceremony has not been conducted blindfold at all, especially after the one in 2006. We have rather intensively been observing the changes in Costa Rica over three years before we awarded the prize – and we did not observe from a distance, but in fact locally over and with PRETOMA.

The “SHARKPROJECT GUARDIAN of the Year 2013” was then handed over to two people with the same goals and the same subject – namely the change in Costa Rica:The President of the country and the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. The parallely awarded “SHARKPROJECT ENEMY of the Year 2013 “by the way went to Colin Barnett, the Premier of Western Australia, for the government-sponsored call to hunt sharks.

Of course the shark protection is not yet perfect in Costa Rica. We do know the situation on the ground through many years of shared work with the organization PRETOMA, which we support. We know that there are counter movements, attempts to creep in, corruption and other illegalities in Costa Rica. We are not blind.

By the way: The award went to Ms. Chinchilla Miranda, not to the State of Costa Rica or to all its inhabitants. The prize was at no time awarded to someone who belongs to the finning mafia. The distorted representation of the critics concerning this point speaks for itself – and against the critics.

The prize awarded to the President is also in no way intended as a charter or closing communique – which has also been accentuated. Of course we still observe the development precisely and critically.

But we also know about the currently existing powerlessness of authorities around the conservation area Cocos Island from our own experiences and observations. There is still a lot of work left to do.

In our opinion this does not mean that we – like those who attack us – defame the government of Costa Rica as corrupt backers of the finning mafia just because there is currently no all-encompassing effective enforcement of good laws. What is actually expected here? Is Costa Rica supposed to invest billions in building a Navy to position armed warships all over the sea in order to arrest fishing boats? Anyone who seriously expects or demands this may never accuse others of having a problem with feasibility or reality.

The government of San José has set important steps by passing bills in order to stop the extermination of sharks. This is to be honored, and we stick with that. Handing the award over to the President was and is still the right thing to do.

The passed criticism on us is vociferous, but after closer examination attests to a bottomless ignorance. From our point of view, it is definitely the best way to accolade and support anyone who seriously tries hard, in order to motivate him on the right track – not to grossly stifle any attempt by condemning it already on the way, because some expected success is still missing. We are also quite confident that this interpersonal approach is not only pedagogically the right thing to do.

SHARKPROJECT is not militant, neither in action nor in words. We do not want to become entangled in further discussions. We will instead spend our time and energy on more important matters.

For there is truly enough left to do.

SHARKPROJECT International e.V.
President: Gerhard Wegner
Vice-President: Christine Gstöttner
Vice-President: Christine Staacks

President: Dr. Walter Buchinger
Vice-President: Helmut Wipplinger
Vice-President: Elisabeth Buchinger

President: Gerhard Wegner
Vice-President: Heiner Endemann
Vice-President: Wolfram Koch

SHARKPROJECT Switzerland e.V.
President: Nicole Blumenthal
Vice-President: Alex Smolinsky


Download this Press Release Statement (pdf, ca. 320 kB): click here.

eMagazine in Portuguese on the Azores – Schools Programme and Newspaper Campaign, Cooperation with AOMA


SHARKPROJECT don’t give up on the Azores!

Already as from March an new newspaper campaign has taken flight: Our adverts (in Portuguese) appear regularly in two newspapers. In the adverts there is a link to our website with the most important information on shark fishing in the Azores in Portuguese:




This is all happening in cooperation with the newly founded organisation AOMA (Associacao dos Operadores de Mergulho dos Acores) and their president Paulo Reis. Paulo lives and works on the island of Santa Maria and is one of the most experienced divers and diving centre owners on the Azores. He has been a keen supporter of SHARKPROJECT right from beginning, so we are especially pleased to be able to work closely with him.

Another crucial supporter to our side is Nuno Sa, the world famous nature photographer and journalist. He too will work with us on the ads and newspaper articles for Sharkproject and the AOMA against shark fishing on the Azores. We are thrilled about this!

Both Paulo and Nuno are bursting with ideas about how we can protect the sharks of Azores in the future.

Wulf Köhler, also an experienced professional diver, who has lived on San Miguel for many years with his wife Dagmar, coordinates all this on the spot.

We’d like to thank all thress of them and their organizations for their tremendous support and efforts on the front-line!



Another aspect of our campaign is to be named (and will become a topic soon): Our SHARKPROJECT schools programme has been delivered to our supporters, various teachers, government and school representatives and will soon be taught in primary schools on the Azores.

Of course we will as well continue to observe the shark landings on Horta/Faial which are sadly still going on. The main concern is whether the now stricter EU-directives are being obeyed. We won’t give up here either. We will keep you informed.

Our Project-Leaders on the Azores are Friederike and Meik Obrock

To whom we may concern…

On December 2nd, we received the following E-Mail from Randall Arauz, PRETOMA, Costa Rica:

As in any democracy, there is a division of powers.  Such is the case in Costa Rica.
Not unique to our country, is the fact that fishery policy is established by the industry.  This holds true in every country in the world, and the establishment of fishery policy by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations.  Thus, even if a President has the political will to carry out a task, a unilateral totalitarian decision can not be taken.  Laws have to be changed and created, and then of course, they must be implemented.

I have directed a shark campaign against shark finning since 2001, being one of the first Latin American organizations to address the problem.  True, Costa Rica was the hub for shark fins from Taiwanese fleets since 1998, when the country invited foriegn fleets to land in the privacy of their own private docks.  The Costa Rican Fishery Institute is ruled by a Board of Directors, among whose members are longliners with interests in the shark fin industry.  One of our first victories was the requirment to land fins-attached, we were the first country in the world to do so, but the regulation was impossible to implement while foreign boats were allowed to land their products in the ilegal privacy of their docks.  This has been a typical situation since we started our campaign in 2001. The executive branch wanting to implement shark finning regulations, and the fishery authoritiy protecting the interests of foreign fleets.  Changing this political arrangement requires changes in the law.

So, why do we think President Chinchilla deserves the award?  First and foremost, because she ordered the closure of the private docks on December 1 of 2010.  Pretoma had won a Constitutional Court order in January of 2006, ordering the closure of the private docks.  We asked former President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006) to implement the ruling, but he refused.  Throughout the next President’s term (Oscar Arias, 2006-2010) the State Comptrollership ordered the closure of the docks, and the Congressional Environment Committee also issued a recommendation for thier closure…but the economic and political power of the foreign fleets was too much.  Arias also refused to close the docks.  Our position back then was clear cut. As long as the foriegn fleets are allowed to land in the privacy of their own docks, no regulation will be efficient.  Recently after Laura Chinchilla took office, she ordered the closure of the private docks (December 1, 2010).

(c) La Nación

The efficiency of the measure was immediate.  No foreign boats landed for three months.  Then, in March of 2011 a boat was caught landing 2000 kilos of sharks without fins.  The tawianese Captain and company were fined for over $60K , but then came the question, what happened to the fins?  They were landed in the Nicaraguan port of San Juan del Sur, and then reimported into Costa Rica by land.  In April and May two more taiwanese boats were caught landing shark fins attached to spines.  The President of INCOPESCA was recently criminally charged by the Puntarenas prosecutor for allowing one of these landings.   No more landings of fins attached to spines have occurred, nor are on record.  The vast majority of the foreign fleet left Puntarenas and moved to other countries.  Privated docks are for sale.  However, it was now necessary to stop shark fin imports.

The shark fin imports case was exposed to the Costa Rican public through a full page add in the main newspaper, La Nación, in November of 2011.  We asked the President to close this loophole, and to foster the protection of hammerhead sharks in CITES.  By June of 2012, Costa Rica included hammerhead sharks in Appendix III of CITES (the first and only country in the world), by October of 2012 Costa Rica bannned shark fin imports, and by March of 2013 Costa Rica led the global process, together with Brazil and Honduras, to list hammerhead sharks under Appendix II of CITES.

Thus, we beleive the President deserves the award, because:

  • She ordered the closure of privated docks.
  • She ordered the ban on shark fin imports
  • Costa Rica spearheaded  the listing of hammerhead sharks in CITES with Honduras and Brazil.

Furthermore, Presidents in Democratic countries are clearly not dictators, they are under a lot of pressure from interest groups.  Since Costa Rica has the fundamental problem every other fishery nation has, and its that corporate interests dictate fishery policy, these decisions were not easy to take, and met with major political opposition, in spite of which the President stook to her guns.  To strengthen the implementation of marine conservation policy, she created the Vice Ministry of Oceans.  Costa Rica has always been in the front lines of the battle against shark finning.  We were the first nation to implement a fins attached policy against shark finning, which has been followed by the entire American continent, the European Economic Union and Australia.  We were the first and only nation to list hammerhead sharks under Appendix III, and led the process for an Appendix II listing.  Certainly, things could be better, but these are complicated political processes, change doesn’t come overnight.

We are currently campiagning for a reform of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute, that would remove the Board of Directors and return the establshment of fishery policy to the public interest.  This reform requires the approval of the Congress.  Obviously, this propobal will face enormous opposition by the typicial corporate interests that have dictated fishery policy in Costa Rica forever.  We hope this award will strenghten Chinchilla’s position to foster this needed change, that a bill will be sent to the Congress to reform the fishery institute, and that a domino effect will follow in the region and the world, with more and more nations returning the establishment of their fishery policy to the public interest, where the best science available is used and the laws are respected.

PRETOMA will continue to obtain these reforms and turn Costa Rica into the global marine conservation leader it needs.  Organizations like Shark Project have been instrumental in supporting our efforts.  The Shark Enemy Award, granted to President Pacheco in 2006, cast a spot light on Costa Rica as a shark finning nation.  This current award to President Chinchilla casts another spotlight, but on a nation that is changing for the better.

Randall Arauz


Fotos (c) Randall Arauz / Pretoma / La Nación