The Arenal Area Magazine

When Predators are Prey: Shark Populations Decimated for Fin Soup — Campaign Pressures Costa Rican Government to Enforce Laws


Shark finning” is the inhumane act of slicing off a shark’s valuable fin and throwing the live, mutilated body back into the sea. The fins are exported to Asia for use in shark fin soup. Though Costa Rican law prohibits finning, spotty enforcement allows the slaughter to continue. Shark finning is largely responsible for the 90-percent decline in shark populations worldwide. Goldman Environmental Award winner Randall Arauz is campaigning with three non-profit environmental groups to pressure Costa Rica to stop the practice.

Costa Rica’s biodiversity and its conservation efforts have long made it a favorite destination for nature-lovers.

"Killing sharks for their fins is more than just barbarous and wasteful—it’s illegal under Costa Rican law. This crime must be stopped" Ethical Traveler’s Executive Director Jeff Greenwald

Now, the cruel practice of “shark finning” is threatening Costa Rica’s eco-friendly image. Shark finning is the act of chopping the fins off of live sharks and dumping the then-helpless sharks back into the sea to drown. The fins are exported to Asia where they are used in an expensive delicacy: shark fin soup—or as journalist John Platt calls it, “Extinction in a Bowl.”

A 2007 study published by Science magazine showed a 90-percent decline in global shark populations in recent decades.

A study commissioned for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species found fishermen responsible for the death of over 200 million sharks each year.

Ethical Traveler’s Executive Director Jeff Greenwald says, “Sharks are a majestic and critical part of the ocean ecosystem. Killing them for their fins is more than just barbarous and wasteful—it’s illegal under Costa Rican law. This crime must be stopped.”

EthicalTraveler.org has partnered with nonprofit groups Mission-Blue.org and Costa Rica’s Pretoma.org to stop shark finning in the Central American nation. In April, Pretoma founder Randall Arauz received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award for his work to pass a Costa Rican law requiring that sharks be “landed” with their fins attached—a major victory for the sharks.

But the work is not finished.

Thanks to the growing middle class in China, appetite for shark fin soup is as insatiable as ever. According to Arauz, shark fins sell for more than 100 times the price of shark meat. Arauz notes that “Taiwanese finning ships are now docking at Costa Rica’s private facilities under cover of darkness, in order to escape the reach of the country’s anti-finning law.”

Travelers and environmentalists are pressuring the Costa Rican government to step-up enforcement of existing laws against landing fish at private docks, and to discourage the consumption of shark meat. More information on the campaign is available at: http://ethicaltraveler.org/costa-rica-shark-finning .

Note to Editors: Photos and follow-up interviews available upon request.

Additional Resources:

Ethical Traveler: using the power of tourism to protect human rights and the environment. http://ethicaltraveler.org/

PRETOMA: a marine conservation and research organization working to protect ocean resources and promote sustainable fisheries policies in Costa Rica and Central America. http://pretoma.org

Mission Blue: an organization igniting public support for a global network of marine protected areas–hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean. http://www.mission-blue.org

Background on the Goldman Prize:
http://www.goldmanprize.org/2010/southcentralamerica

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