March 7, 2005 – San Jose, Costa Rica
Shark finning and the illegal landings by foreign vessels at private docks have returned to Costa Rica. Recently, on November 22, 2004, Customs had finally applied the law and halted foreign vessel landings at private docks after years of pressure from over 75,000 citizens, a majority of members of the Costa Rican Congress who signed a petition to the President, shark experts, as well as national and international organizations.
However, Taiwanese dock owners in Costa Rica quickly complained. During the Christmas 2004 holidays, Customs caved in to Taiwanese complaints and quietly began passing resolutions to once again allow Taiwanese and other foreign fishing vessels to illegally land at private docks in violation of Customs law. Then on January 24, 2005, Customs quietly passed a broad reaching resolution allowing all foreign vessels to land at any private dock, facilitating and prolonging the shark finning problem in Costa Rica. (Contact PRETOMA for copies of the resolutions.)
Customs Manager, Omar Jimenez Camareno, has been writing the resolutions. Some of the resolutions contradict one another. In the November resolution Camareno points out that according to Customs Law he cannot grant indefinite or permanent authorizations for private docks and that foreign vessels may only land at private docks in exceptional cases which deviate widely from the norm. However, in the resolution he passed on January 24, 2005 he grants authorization to private docks for an undefined length of time, thus condoning illegal landings by foreign vessels which for years, during Mr. Camareno’s entire tenure, have occurred on a daily basis.
“Once again Customs is choosing to represent Taiwanese shark fin interests rather than apply the law and defend the public interest,” says Randall Arauz, President of PRETOMA. “The Customs Law says foreign vessels must land at public docks and can only land at private docks in exceptional cases because the public interest cannot be protected behind the high walls and razor wire at the private docks. However, for eight years, Customs has allowed illegal landings by foreign vessels at private docks to be the norm.”
Customs claims that public docks are lacking in Costa Rica and therefore the private docks must be used. However, Customs has had over 8 years to make minor repairs to the public dock in Puntarenas but has done nothing. Furthermore, public docks exist in other Pacific Costa Rican ports. Therefore, there is nothing inhibiting foreign vessels from landing at public docks in compliance with the law.
Over a year ago, PRETOMA filed a lawsuit at the Constitutional Court against Customs for allowing foreign vessels to land at private docks. The Court has not ruled on the case. A criminal case has also been filed against Mr. Camareno in the Puntarenas Court.
“Costa Rica recently celebrated Congressional approval of a new Fishery Law which bans shark finning and the landing of shark fins,” says Noah Anderson of PRETOMA. “That ban is a moot point now, because you can’t enforce laws at private docks. Inspectors don’t have free access and when the National Ombudsman recently attempted to enter the largest Taiwanese owned dock he was turned away at the front door.”
From 2001 to 2003, Costa Rica had a shark finning ban equal to that in the new Fishery Law. On paper it was considered by shark experts to be the most progressive shark finning ban in the world. However, given that Customs was allowing foreign vessels to illegally land at private docks and the result, the ban could never be enforced and fin landings of up to 30 tons occurred on a regular basis. Likewise, if Customs continues to allow foreign vessels to land illegally at private docks the new Fishery Law will be impossible to enforce.
“The key to the shark finning issue in Costa Rica is the private docks,” says Arauz. “Until Customs enforces the law at private docks, any shark finning ban is just a paper tiger and the Costa Rican Fishery Law cannot be enforced. Costa Rican President, Dr. Abel Pacheco must take action now. The Costa Rican government cannot claim to lead regional efforts for conservation and sustainable use of ocean resources, while it simultaneously ignores national laws in order to facilitate the Taiwanese shark finning industry.”
PRETOMA (Programa Restauraci