Climate Action

Costa Rica Turns its Back on Hammerhead Sharks

Costa Rica, the little Central American nation known for its dense tropical forests and impressive wildlife diversity, has won a place in the green hall of fame due to its commitment to environmentalism, renewable energies and nature. Being the only country in the entire American continent to be included in the top 10 of the last issue of the Global Green Economy Index, the nation has taken impressive stands on climate change and wildlife protection. Nonetheless, after being an active advocate in the promotion of Hammerhead Shark protection before both the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2013 and the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in 2014, Costa Rica has turned its back on the species. CITES states that species listed on Appendix II (to which the commerce of hammerhead is linked) can be commercially exploited by a member country as long as its government provides a Non-detriment Finding (NDF) proving that the exploitation in question is not detrimental to the species’ population. According to CITES, each member country is responsible for setting their own NFD, as long as it follows CITES’ principles, but Costa Rica has yet to define its criteria. Still, the nation authorized an initial export of 906 pounds of fins in December 2014 and a second one of more than 2500 pounds (the equivalent to approximately 2000 sharks) in March of the present year. Failing to provide a proper NDF, the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) proceeded instead with a letter sent to Costa Rica’s CITES scientific council as a “temporary” NDF. This “temporary” NDF was approved by the council on December 18, 2014, even though it was not in compliance with CITES ruling. Furthermore, INCOPESCA’s statement that the amount of product waiting to be exported was by no means a threat to the species’ survival (according to INCOPESCA, only 59 sharks were involved in the first shipment), caused an uproar from environmentalists and critics, which accused the institution of misinforming the public. They stated that the 906 pounds of fins were the equivalent of nearly seven times that number of sharks. With a history filled with corruption and neglect of marine conservation, and a regulating board dominated by fishing industry businessmen, INCOPESCA is in a constant battle with Costa Rican marine conservationists, who see the institution as ineffective and untrustworthy. Claiming that their decisions always seem to benefit the interests of the large-scale fishing industry, environmentalists, experts and concerned citizens have been protesting the institution’s legitimacy for several years now, as well as opposing the naming of Gustavo Meneses as INCOPESCA president. Meneses, a priest with no prior experience on marine resource management declared the export of both the fin shipments as a matter of public interest, citing the economic welfare of impoverished coastal communities as his main reason for doing so. Meanwhile, Costa Rican President, Luis Guillermo Solís, has faced a wave of rampant criticism. Having sold himself as an environmentalist and wildlife conservationist during the political campaign, Solis’ passivity in the matter came out as a deception for environmental activists and organizations, which see it as a betrayal and mockery of one the most important environmental causes in the country. Jessica Ordonez, Intern