A criminal court in Puntarenas has ruled on the case of a Taiwanese captain in charge of a fishing vessel registed in Belize. Tsai Yu Jen was caught unloading 20,000 kilos of blue shark at a commercial dock in the Port of Puntarenas. Fishing inspectors detained him when they determined that his considerable catch consisted of blue sharks with their fins cut off. Captain Tsai Yu Jen will now have to pay 62 million colones, about $124,000.
Although the case somehow ended up in a court dedicated to processing minor civil infractions, the tribunal determined that the captain’s violation of Costa Rica’s fishing laws corresponded to 70 median salaries, or $56,000, of which 50 percent will be paid to the Fishing Institute (INCOPESCA in Spanish) and the rest to the Coast Guard service. Around $36,000 will be destined to cover the cost of the ship’s arrest, and the rest of the fine consists of the gross profits the shark fins yielded.
The ship arrest of the Fishing Vessel Hung Chi Fu took place in March of 2011 in Puntarenas. The crew of the FV Hung Chi Fu was busy offloading a catch of Hexanchus griesus, blunt-nosed grey sharks (also called cow sharks), which are abundant in the Pacific coast off Costa Rica. The H. griesus catch of the FV Hung Chi Fu was within legal limits, but it was also used to conceal the villainous catch of blue sharks with their fins hacked off.
Although Prionace glauca (blue sharks) are not endangered, they are highly sought after by unscrupulous shark fin poachers who do not take advantage of the shark’s leather, the liver oil, or the edible flesh that can also be turned to fishmeal. Poachers only chop off the fins of blue sharks to sell in the lucrative Asian markets. Shark-fin soup is a popular delicacy in China, Hong Kong and other prosperous Asian nations, where a bowl can fetch up to $100.
Fishing inspectors in Costa Rica are working with environmental protection groups and the Coast Guard to put a stop to shark fin poaching. According to a 2010 article in Time Magazine, more than a million sharks are irresponsibly killed each year just for their fins.
In 2011, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was in Costa Rica filming a documentary about the illegal shark fin trade when he surprised a group of poachers. The illegal fishermen attacked Ramsay by dumping gasoline over his head and threatening him at gunpoint. According to the ROLE Foundation, Asian Triads (organized crime groups) have a significant interest in the nefarious trade.