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).
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.
Fotos (c) Randall Arauz / Pretoma / La Nación