Shark fins are hacked — legally in this case — off a frozen shark carcass in the Costa Rican port of Puntarenas. The practice of cutting off sharks' fins at sea and throwing the rest of the body back is illegal in Costa Rica, but still persists.

Ban on Shark Finning Hard to Enforce in Costa Rica

Known for being one of the world’s most ecologically responsible countries, Costa Rica still faces problems with a banned fishing practice–shark finning. The Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) investigates this topic in its latest report with PRI’s The World.

Shark finning has been illegal in Costa Rica since 2005, but FERN reporter Shannon Service speaks to a former shark fisherman, Captain Jose Calderon, who once hid fins in the engine room of his boat. If inspectors found the fins anyway, he paid them off.

“Calderon says he’s out of the shark-finning business now,” reports Service, “But with a big fin still fetching big money in places like Hong Kong, the incentive for others is strong.”

Reporting from Cocos Island–a shark sanctuary, marine reserve and World Heritage Site where, Service explains that during last September alone, rangers confiscated 200 miles of fishing line and seven thousand buoys used to catch sharks illegally. Ranger Geiner Golfin, who is in charge of protecting Cocos from pirates, says it’s hard to do his job because the top fisheries agency, INCOPESCA, doesn’t do its job and includes representatives from the fishing industry.

He told Service, “If I go to the fisheries board and say, ‘Ok, well, we need this sanction to do this or this’, they say ‘Oh no, don’t do that. You’ll get my boats in trouble’.”

She reports that a new anti-finning law aimed at reducing the number of sharks being killed illegally, which says sharks must come into port with fins attached to their bodies, has resulted in work-arounds, like sewing a number of fins to a single shark body.

Service reports from a Pacific port in Puntarenas where a boat offloads a dozen frozen whole sharks. An inspector checks the boat in less than five minutes.

“Remembering what Captain Calderon told me, I ask him about the engine room,” she says. “The engine room,” responds the inspector, “No, we never go in there.”

This story follows on the heels of a print piece on the sharks of Costa Rica by FERN reporter Maria Finn for the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday travel section on December 2, 2013.

You can listen to Shannon Service’s full report here on our Web site or here at PRI’s The World.