By: The Tico Times
A Puntarenas court will reconvene Friday for a shark finning trial that could re-establish a gruesome loophole in the law that bans finning in Costa Rican waters.
The case started in 2011, when a boat belonging to the case’s defendant, Taiwanese-Costa Rican Kathy Tseng Chang, docked in Puntarenas, on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. Fishermen on Tseng’s boat had allegedly carved out all of the meat, bones and innards of 36 sharks, leaving only the spinal column with the fins attached by strips of skin. Tseng claims that the meat was used for bait and as food for the crew, both legal when fishing sharks.
The practice of shark finning is credited with the decimation of more than 90 percent of the world’s sharks, and it fuels the demand for shark-fin soup, an Asian delicacy that can fetch more than $100 a bowl. To save room in the hulls and maximize profits, fishermen often slice off the sharks’ fins and toss the bodies overboard. Landing shark fins without a body attached has been illegal at Costa Rican docks for more than a decade.
After word got out about Tseng’s fishing expedition, the president of the Pacific Coast Fishermen’s Union, Javier Catón, filed an official complaint that the fins were not “naturally attached” to the shark’s body per Costa Rican Law. The complaint prompted the Puntarenas Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation.
Three years later, the case is now seeing light in court and assistant prosecutor Tatiana Chaves says a non-guilty verdict could have broad consequences for shark-finning as a whole.
“If the court does not condemn this practice it is possible that people could interpret that to mean that it is legal to bring in sharks in this manner,” Chaves said. “I do not think that would happen, but it is a possibility.”
In case of a not-guilty verdict, the legality of Tseng’s finning method is left open to interpretation. It would be up to the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) to decide whether or not to allow future boats to land sharks in the same condition as on Tseng’s boat, Chaves said.
Luis Dobles, executive director of Incopesca, originally authorized Tseng’s ship to unload its cargo, and is under investigation for a related case. Dobles has denied wrongdoing and mantained that Tseng’s actions were legal.
“Using shark meat as bait could be considered an integral part of shark fishing,” Dobles wrote in the resolution that allowed Tseng’s ship to dock. “There are not methods that exist to verify that that is actually what the meat was used for.”
Environmentalists fear that regardless of enforcement, the uncertainty of a not-guilty verdict would bring back many of the boats that had left Costa Rica following the passage of stricter regulations.
“If [Tseng and Dobles] both get away with this then we can start expecting a wave of Taiwanese ships to arrive in Costa Rica that had left,” said Randall Arauz, president of the ocean conservation organization Pretoma. “We will be the jokes of the whole world. That will happen.”
If Tseng is found guilty she will face a fine and up to one year in jail, a penalty Chaves said the defendant would be unlikely to serve due to prison overcrowding. The verdict could come in as early as today.
“People don’t consider it a very important crime here,” said Chaves, “but even if the case does not effect shark finning directly, it is important that we send a message that we will not tolerate this in our waters.”
By: Rory Carroll and Andres Schipani in Santa Ana de Chipaya; The Guardian, Thursday 23 April 2009
Its members belong to what is thought to be the oldest surviving culture in the Andes, a tribe that has survived for 4,000 years on the barren plains of the Bolivian interior. But the Uru Chipaya, who outlasted the Inca empire and survived the Spanish conquest, are warning that they now face extinction through climate change.
The tribal chief, 62-year-old Felix Quispe, 62, says the river that has sustained them for millennia is drying up. His people cannot cope with the dramatic reduction in the Lauca, which has dwindled in recent decades amid erratic rainfall that has turned crops to dust and livestock to skin and bones.
"Over here used to be all water," he said, gesturing across an arid plain. "There were ducks, crabs, reeds growing in the water. I remember that. What are we going to do? We are water people."
The Uru Chipaya, who according to mythological origin are "water beings" rather than human beings, could soon be forced to abandon their settlements and go to the cities of Bolivia and Chile, said Quispe. "There is no pasture for animals, no rainfall. Nothing. Drought."
The tribe is renowned for surviving on the fringe of a salt desert, a harsh and eerie landscape which even the Incas avoided, by flushing the soil with river water. As the Lauca has dried, many members of the Uru Chipaya have migrated, leaving fewer than 2,000 in the village of Santa Ana and the surrounding settlements.
"We have nothing to eat. That's why our children are all leaving," said Vicenta Condori, 52, dressed in traditional skirt and shawl. She has two children in Chile.
Some members of the tribe blame the crisis on neglect of the deities. The chief has lobbied for greater offerings and adherence to traditional customs. "This is in our own hands," he said.
Scientists say rising temperatures have accelerated the retreat of Andean glaciers throughout Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. A ski resort in Bolivia's capital, La Paz, the highest in South America, closed several years ago because of the retreat of the Chacaltaya glacier. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2007 that warmer temperatures could melt all Latin America's glaciers within 15 years. A recent World Bank study sounded fresh alarm on the issue.
Indigenous groups from around the world are meeting in Alaska this week to discuss global warming. "Indigenous peoples are on the frontlines of climate change," said the host, the Inuit Circumpolar Council. A new Oxfam report, meanwhile, has warned that within six years the number of people affected by climate-related crises will jump by 54% to 375 million.
Evo Morales, Bolivia's president, told the Guardian that his government would form a united front with indigenous groups for a "big mobilisation" at a summit in Denmark this year to draw up a successor to the Kyoto treaty. They intend to push industrialised countries to cut carbon emissions. "We are preparing a team from the water and environment ministries to focus not only on the summit but beyond that."
One of South America's poorest countries, Bolivia is struggling with competition for natural resources. Water scarcity has hit La Paz and its satellite city, El Alto, prompting conservation campaigns. The shortage is nationwide. The Uru Chipaya accuse Aymara communities, living upriver from the Lauca, of diverting more and more water supplies. "It's a dual cause: climate change and greater competition. The result is an extremely grave threat to this culture. I am very worried," said Alvaro Díez Astete, an anthropologist who has written a book on the tribe.
With so many of the young people migrating to cities, where they speak Spanish, the Uru language could disappear within a few generations. Some Uru Chipaya fear the battle for cultural survival could already be lost. The rutted streets of Santa Ana are largely deserted and little disturbs the stillness of the dry plains that once were fields.
Several dozen, mostly elderly, people gathered on a recent Sunday to share soup from communal pots. "We are at risk of extinction," said Juan Condori, 55. "The Chipaya could cease to exist within the next 50 years. The most important thing is water. If there is no water the Chipaya have no life."