Environmentalist Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has recently been very active in calling attention to the illegal practices of shark finning in Costa Rica, as well as the allegations of ties between fishery officials and what Mr. Watson defines as “narco-poachers.”
On his Facebook Timeline, which is followed by nearly 235,000 social media netizens, Mr. Watson recently recalled the 2011 Malpelo incident, in which up to 10 fishing boats, all reportedly flying the red, white and blue flag of Costa Rica, massacred 2,000 hammerhead (Sphyrnidae) and silky (Carcharhinidae) sharks. Mr. Watson writes:
Narco Poachers Call the Shots in Corrupt Costa Rica
Despite promises to Colombia that Costa Rica would investigate the slaughter of over 2000 sharks in 2011 in the Colombian Marine Reserve of Malpelo, no action was ever taken despite Colombian rangers having identified and named a number of Costa Rican flagged fishing vessels. Now we know why. INCOPESCA the Costa Rican fishery enforcement agency has been on the take for years and is only now coming under investigation. With the support of the government of Costa Rica tens of millions of dollars in shark fins are landed in Costa Rica every year. Many of these ships are also smuggling drugs, also finally under investigation. The corruption in Costa Rica is the worst in all of Latin America. In Costa Rica, narco poachers call the shots and the government averts their eyes. This is the country that wants me extradited for stopping an illegal shark finning operation yet the shark finners and turtle poachers go about their business without fear of the law.
Mr. Watson supported his statement above with a link to a 2011 report by Sibylla Brodzinsky of the Guardian. With regard to his mention of INCOPESCA (Costa Rica’s government entity in charge of affairs related to fisheries and oceanic resources) being on the take, Mr. Watson is referring to the ongoing criminal investigation of Luis Dobles, president of that agency. Mr. Dobles is responding to accusations filed by a citizen by the last name of Caton, who claims that INCOPESCA’s president authorized the offloading of fin-less sharks in Puntarenas sometime in 2011.
The Costa Rica Star has previously reported on the INCOPESCA affair. Daily newspaper La Nacion reported on a statement by Mr. Dobles that indicates he once authorized the offloading of sharks without their backs, which are often cut for filets, but that their fins were attached and intact. That fishing vessel was later investigated for shark finning.
Mr. Watson has also written on his Facebook Timeline about the ongoing INCOPESCA affair:
I am not surprised. However I do not expect the charges to be dropped against me. The corruption goes all the way to the top to the office of the President. Hopefully the pieces will begin to fall into place and more will be revealed about how Costa Rica has one of the worst records of marine conservation in all of Latin America.
The INTERPOL issued a Red Notice for the arrest of Mr. Watson about a year ago. The charges against him are pending in the same prosecutor’s office in Puntarenas that is handling the criminal investigation on Mr. Dobles and his alleged authorization of shark finning as INCOPESCA’s president. You can read more about this affair in our archived news section on Paul Watson. It is important to note that Mr. Watson could find some vindication should Mr. Dobles be found criminally liable with regard to shark finning in Costa Rica.
With regard to the Malpelo incident reported by the Guardian and mentioned by Mr. Watson, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Costa Rica sent a communiqué to the Colombian government on the matter on September 19th, 2011. That cable requested more information on the matter, to which the Colombian Chancellery initially responded that no further information was available other than what Sandra Bessudo, the advisor to the Colombian Presidential Office on marine conservation matters, provided to the press.
Less than a year after the alleged Malpelo shark massacre, the governments of Costa Rica and Colombia ratified their commitment to protecting marine resources, particularly sharks. The Costa Rica Star reported on the matter, along with similar efforts by Honduras. About fourteen suspects were rounded up for their participation in the grisly mass shark killing, four of them were Costa Rican citizens who spent about 11 months in a Colombian prison.