A defining moment

written by MARIO ESPINOZA, marine biologist, professor at the University of Costa Rica.

Currently, issues of export of shark fins, and especially marketing hammerhead shark species have been the focus of attention of many, including the fisheries sector, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Costa Rican people.

La aletas de tiburón son muy apetecidas en el mercado asiático. Foto por Jeff Litton

La aletas de tiburón son muy apetecidas en el mercado asiático. Foto por Jeff Litton

Shark fins have a very high value on the Asian market, which has led to illegal fishing activities to the detriment of several species such as hammerhead sharks. The reason is simple, the price of the fins is higher than that of the flesh. Therefore, some fishermen opt for the easy (but illegal) option of cutting and retaining only the fins so they can have more room on their boats, and thus generate greater wealth. This activity has been completely banned in many countries, and Costa Rica is no exception. However, not only does shark finning continue in our waters, but also a lack of controls the landings, which makes it impossible to even know the kind of species being captured. This despite all the existing regulations and conventions to which Costa Rica is part.

An irregular authorization

Costa Rica recently authorized the export of a shipment of hammerhead shark fins, although it did not have the necessary Not Detriment Finding, which should not have happened. This species was included in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Hammerhead shark populations in the world are in a very critical condition. Juvenile hammerheads are distributed along the coast (near bays, estuaries and wetlands); therefore, species are very susceptible to fishing with nets, trammel nets and longlines. Adults migrate to oceanic islands (eg Cocos Island, Malpelo and Galapagos), where they are often caught in longline fisheries at large scale. The history of hammerhead sharks in national waters is sad, since both pups and adults are exposed to a very high fishing pressure.

To prevent the disappearance of hammerheads in national waters it is necessary: (1) to reduce and/or prevent the extraction and marketing of immature individuals in coastal waters, and (2) to improve management measures of longline fishing in open water which is associated with the fishing of adult hammerheads. Only then could we effectively conserve this species to ensure their survival.

What to do?

The government of Costa Rica should take a strong stand to ensure the protection and sustainable use of our marine resources. If we allow shipments of hammerhead shark fins we would be opening a gate to encourage their capture. This is the time where we have to be stronger and make it clear that the future of Costa Rican marine resources depends on the decisions we make today.

Due to the current situation of many sharks in the world, and particularly the situation of hammerhead sharks, it is necessary to restrict the extraction and marketing of species that are at increased risk of extinction. The integrated management of shark resources in Costa Rica depends on how effectively we can implement better fisheries management measures and enforce existing policies.


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