Costa Rican Congress denies protection to threatened sharks.

by | Dec 14, 2023

Fishing of threatened sharks continues despite Court mandate to protect them as wildlife.

(San José, Costa Rica – 14/12/2023)

Last December 13, the Costa Rican congress voted against extending the 4-year term of the bill known as the Sharks Are Wildlife bill, which sought to protect threatened sharks (Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered), and which was ready for a final Plenary Vote.

After a final vote resulting in 23 in favor and 20 against, the bill was archived, as a minimum of 29 votes was needed to obtain the 4-year extension.  A motion to review the vote was approved due to procedural flaws, but the new vote ended with a tie (22), far from the needed 29 votes.  Thus, the process ended, and the bill was ultimately archived.

Congressman Ariel Robles Barrantes, of Frente Amplio, one of the defenders of the initiative, reminded the Plenary that the bill was congruent with the mandate of the First Chamber of Appeals of the Supreme Court of Justice, in the sense that threatened sharks are wildlife and that their declaration as commercial species was an illegal act of absolute nullity.  “Sharks in our country require judicial safeguarding because they are fished under no controls whatsoever.”

Congresswoman Kattia Cambronero Aguiluz, of Liberal Progresista, who also supported the initiative, criticized that the country claims to be green, but that it turns its back to the ocean.  She also recalled that the ocean is an endless source of economic development for coastal communities, because of which it is so necessary to take care of it.  “If we can’t understand that we are more ocean than earth, and that marine species and biodiversity require protection, then we haven’t understood anything regarding our potential to reach sustainable economic development”.

Ever since the project was being discussed in the Environmental Commission, Congressmen in favor of the bill have reminded their colleagues that neither the small-scale artisanal fishers nor the sports fishers fish for sharks.  “This practice is associated to industrial longliners who mainly export shark products, and who benefit from the indiscriminate fishing of sharks”.

Congressmen David Segura Gamboa of Nueva Republica, Alexander Barrantes Chacon of Progreso Social Democrático, Carlos Andres Robles of Social Cristiano, and Francisco Nicolas Alvarado of Liberacion Nacional, called for the bill to be archived.

According to Segura Gamboa, the bill diminishes employment to the fishers of Puntarenas who have already suffered for decisions such as the ban on shrimp trawling.  According to Nicolas Alvarado, there is “much environmental awareness” in Puntarenas and this bill would have condemned the fishers with more restrictions.  “The more we regulate the fishers, the more complicated we make their lives”.

The objective of this bill was to modify paragraph 4 article 1 of the Wildlife Conservation Law, to include a ban on fishing species listed under threat or endangered by the IUCN or listed under any Appendix of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Process in the Congress

Bill 21.754, also known as the #SharksRWildlife bill, submitted to the Congress in 2019 by congresswoman Paula Vega Rodriguez during the last legislative period (2018-2022) was approved by the Environmental Commission in 2020.  Las August 22nd, and despite being ready for a Plenary Vote, the current congressmen decided to send the bill back to the Environmental Commission for further discussion.

The justification offered by the congressmen for this maneuver was that if approved, the regulation would be detrimental to the fishers of Puntarenas.  According to Cambronero Aguiluz, this argument is completely fallacious.  “If the claims of the fishers are true, in the regard that they do not catch protected species, then this project would not generate any detriment to them at all, as they also claim”, she explained.

Congressman Nicolas Alvarado called for the discussion not to satanized and affirmed that he had formerly agreed to support the 4-year term extension for the bill, referring to a motion that was passed and he had approved weeks earlier for the approval of the bill in the Environmental Commission.  The motion however greatly weakened the bill.

According to Zelina Fontana, Campaign Coordinator of the Costa Rican non-profit CREMA, the approval of the bill would be congruent with Article 75 of the Wildlife Conservation Law and Article 140 of the Fisheries Law, both of which prohibit the commercialization of marine species protected by conventions that Costa Rica has signed and ratified, as well as with relevant and binding Constitutional Court jurisprudence that bans the commercialization of threatened marine species acknowledged as such by the State, an activity that is contrary to the precautionary principle, and thus, to the Constitution.

Environmentalists held a rally for sharks last September, calling for the Congress not to allow the bill to be archived.  They also recalled that three species of hammerhead sharks, three species of thresher sharks, and silky sharks, constituted over 40% of the landed commercial catch of the longline fishing industry, all of which are listed as threatened and endangered species the National System of Protected Areas (SINAC).

“We want to express our sincere gratitude to congressman Ariel Robles and congresswoman Kattia Cambronero for relentlessly pushing for the approval of this bill through the legislative procedures, as well as the thousands of Costa Ricans and global citizens who supported our call”, said Randall Arauz, of Marine Watch International.  “This isn’t over, we still have a Court mandate that both the Ministers of Environment and Fisheries are acting in contempt of, and which must be abided by, stay tuned”, said Arauz with optimism.

For more information:

Zelina Fontana

Shark Campaign Coordinator

CREMA – Costa Rica

+506 8315-4364 | dodoilustracion@gmail.com

Randall Arauz

Marine Watch International (Costa Rica)

+506 8708 8253 | rarauz@marinewatch.org

For more information:

Randall Arauz

Marine Watch International