Interpol Acts to Protect Sharks

Research & Analysis

Seeking to thwart efforts to circumvent laws against shark finning, Interpol, the international police agency, has issued an alert highlighting a method used by some Costa Rican fishermen.

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When finning, fishermen cut the fins off a live shark before tossing it back into the water to drown. The fins are valued primarily for use in shark fin soup.

Costa Rican law requires that sharks be brought to port with their fins “naturally attached” to their bodies. But the fins are the most valuable part of the shark so fishermen seek ways to avoid using limited cargo space to bring whole sharks into port.

The Interpol alert, called a Purple Notice, informs the agency's 190 member countries about how some fishermen are trying to get around finning bans such as the one in Costa Rica. “The method involved capturing the sharks which were then cut into pieces or gutted, leaving just a thin strip of skin to which the fins were attached,” according to the notice made public Nov. 6. Some fishermen argue that this technically qualifies as naturally attached, though it does not comply with the intent of the Costa Rican law.

“Globally, shark populations face serious threats of extinction due to demand for their fins,” said Maximiliano Bello of The Pew Charitable Trusts' global shark conservation initiative. “Interpol's action will help Costa Rica and other nations crack down on wasteful and destructive shark finning.”

Bello noted that sharks grow slowly, reach sexual maturity late in life and produce relatively few offspring. “These factors make them particularly vulnerable to overexploitation. Once they are overfished, shark populations are very slow to recover.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has found that 30 percent of shark and ray species it assessed are threatened or near-threatened with extinction.

The Costa Rican Coast Guard has been working to control shark finning in the country's waters. Because it does not have the capacity to address the full scope of the problem, the service asked Interpol for help. Interpol's alert is intended to help Costa Rica and other countries better identify and share methods used to circumvent shark-protection laws. That should lead to better coordination in fighting these environmental crimes.

Interpol, through its Project Scale, has taken a lead in the global fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. “Interpol has the reach, experience and worldwide credibility to help fight fisheries crime,'' said Tony Long, who heads Pew's ending illegal fishing project. “Shining a spotlight on highly questionable practices, like the shark finning method used in Costa Rica, is an important step toward fully legal, sustainable fisheries.”

Interpol Purple Notice: http://bit.ly/1hjyh8u

Pew's global shark conservation initiative: http://bit.ly/1hjywjS

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