- Costa Rica announced an all-out ban on the fishing of hammerhead sharks, specifically the smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran).
- Despite being critically endangered, hammerhead sharks have been bought and sold in Costa Rica for years, with demand being driven by shark fin soup.
- Although some conservation efforts have been made in the past, the government has been heavily criticized up to now for its relaxed approach to dealing with the overfishing of hammerheads.
MEXICO CITY — Fishing for hammerhead sharks is now illegal in Costa Rica, thanks to the signing of a new executive decree this month by President Rodrigo Chaves Robles.
The decree prohibits the capture, transportation, storage or sale of hammerhead sharks or their byproducts, such as fins and teeth. Banned species include the smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran).
Despite being critically endangered — and protected under CITES Appendix II — hammerhead sharks have been bought and sold in Costa Rica for years. The animals are prized for their fins, which are often sent to countries like China to be used in shark fin soup, considered a delicacy.
“This is too late and it’s way too little,” said Randall Arauz, a biologist with Marine Watch International. “Of course I’m happy they banned hammerhead shark fishing. But hammerhead sharks were listed under CITES by initiative of Costa Rica in 2013 and it was their obligation to ban hammerhead shark fishing commercialization, extraction, everything. That’s been our battle for the last ten years.”
In that time, Arauz said hammerhead shark populations in Costa Rica have declined by around 90%.
Different presidents have, over the last decade, gone back and forth about hammerhead shark protections, in part over concern for the wellbeing of the fishing industry. Former president Luis Guillermo Solís issued a decree in 2017 legalizing much of the shark trade only for the decree to be struck down by the supreme court a few years later.
In 2018, the country established a hammerhead shark sanctuary in Golfo Dulce — a gulf in the southeastern edge of the country with high biodiversity — that protected wetlands used by the sharks for breeding.
A lawsuit that year claimed the Costa Rican Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (INCOPESCA) was aware of and even accelerating the overfishing of hammerhead sharks. And some conservation groups accused the Ministry Environment and Energy (MINAE) of permitting the export of thousands hammerhead shark fins to China.
Most of the caught hammerheads, the lawsuit claimed, weren’t reaching sexual maturity, making it difficult for their population numbers to rebound. MINAE and INCOPESCA didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Costa Rica has abstained numerous times throughout the years from voting on shark ban proposals during CITES meetings, adding to an outcry from environmentalists that the country is good at talking about conservation without actually following through on it.
“This is good news,” Arauz said. “But let’s see if they really act on the hammerheads.”
Banner image: Hammerhead sharks swimming off of Cocos Island, Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of John Voo/Flickr.
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