Defending Sharks

Sea Shepherd Galapagos Sting Results In
Seizure Of Over 19,000 Shark Fins

Two-month Long Undercover Investigation
Reveals Illegal Shark Fin Trade

Report by Sea Shepherd Galapagos Director of Operations
Sean O'Hearn-Gimenez

On Wednesday, June 13th, 2007, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and operatives of the Ecuadorian Environmental Police seized a total of 19, 018 shark fins and arrested four suspects. "This successful sting is the result of several months working covertly with the cooperation of General Bolivar Cisneros, chief commander of the Ecuadorian National Police," said Sea Shepherd Galapagos Director Sean O'Hearn-Gimenez.  "In our investigation, we were able to trace potential exit points in the illegal shark fin trade that occurs in the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador."

Using information obtained during several months of intelligence gathering, Sea Shepherd Galapagos and the Environmental Police subsequently assembled a unit with the objective of stopping the illegal smuggling of shark fins at the border between Ecuador and Peru.  "After countless of hours of surveillance, including several stakeouts in the Galapagos and Guayaquil, we were able to target the Peruvian border in a small town called Huaquillas and decided that we would focus our efforts on buses travelling with a route of Guayaquil towards Huaquillas," states O'Hearn-Gimenez.


This pile alone represents over 8,000 shark fins

The initial seizure, at 0345 hours at the immigration checkpoint, included four huge sacks with over 500 pounds of shark fins that were hidden in the compartment area of a passenger bus travelling along a route from Guayaquil to Huaquillas.  The Ecuadorian passenger, Jose Guillermo Yugcha Caiza, was immediately arrested and stated that he was going to meet the buyers at the bus terminal.  Immediately, a second operation was set up in order to identify and arrest the buyers at the bus terminal.  Arriving at the bus terminal, two men approached Mr. Yugcha and made contact with him. They were immediately arrested.  The two men identified themselves as Carlos Alberto Ruiz Delgado with Peruvian credentials and Jang Binfan of Asian descent carrying Peruvian credentials.


The confiscated sacks are weighed and labelled by the police

At 0500 hours, a second passenger bus travelling from Guayaquil towards the Peruvian border was also inspected and two boxes weighing 97.9 pounds with shark fins were found.  The boxes were sent without a passenger but with a tracking number.  An operation was immediately assembled at the bus terminal in order to determine who would claim the two boxes.  An unidentified male approached the driver and stated that he was expecting the two boxes. He was immediately arrested.  The suspect's name was Orlando Martin Ruiz Yacila of Peru.  Initial counts of the two boxes revealed a total of 346 shark fins.  This is roughly equivalent to over 4,500 sharks slaughtered with a street value of over USD$86,000.


Samples of the shark fins

Measuring fins

 


Biologist Milton Cum Jaramillo inspecting fins

From Left to Right: Police officer, police investigator,
police lieutenant, district attorney, O'Hearn-Gimenez,
Minister of Environment Victor Pasaca,
and police officer


"Shark finning is a cruel and senseless act.  Some shark populations have declined by more than 90% in the last 30 years.  Many of the sharks are finned in and around the Galapagos Marine Reserve and this has a direct impact on Ecuador's tourism industry," stated O'Hearn-Gimenez. "Sharks are often finned, while still alive, using a hook and club method. Using longlines to catch the fish, the shark finner will then use a long hook to haul the shark into the boat and then club it on the head knocking the shark unconscious.  At this point the shark is finned alive and is thrown back into the water, left to bleed an agonizing death."

In Ecuador, exportation and trafficking of shark fins is against the law.  Sea Shepherd plans on filing a lawsuit as well as insuring that  a forensic analysis of the shark fins is conducted in order to determine the biological makeup of the sharks and to determine whether any of the species are also listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

O'Hearn-Gimenez oversaw the forensic analysis, insured that the fins did not re-enter the black market, and finally, supervised the incineration of the fins.

Shark Finning is illegal in Ecuador according to the Ecuadorian Presidential Decree 2130 signed into Official Registry on October 7 2004:

Article 1: Specifically prohibits the export or trafficking of shark fins nationally, even if it was considered by-catch.
Article 2: Any attempt to export shark fins will result in the immediate confiscation and incineration.
Article 3: Any person or entity that attempts to falsify information in fish logs will be liable for prosecution including possible fines and removal of fishing license.
Article 4: Prohibits shark fishing nationally, including the import of fishing equipment targeted for sharks.
Article 5: Sharks caught accidentally, or by catch, must be retained and sold whole. A by-catch report must be issued to the National Fisheries Management.
Article 6: Departments responsible for the enforcement of this decree include the Ministry of Commerce and Environment.
Article 7: This decree will become law once published in the Official Registry.


Information in the official report includes:

  • 4 species were identified:
    Alopias superciliosus (Bigeye Thresher Shark) Not on IUCN Red List
    Alopias pelagicus (Pelagic Thresher Shark) Not on IUCN Red List
    Sphyrna lewini (Scalloped Hammerhead Shark) Listed as lower risk   - near threatened
    Carcharhinus plumbeus (Sandbar Shark) Listed as lower risk - near threatened
  • Weight of fins: The weight of the 4 large sacks was 218 kg (479.6 lbs) and the 2 boxes was 38 kg (83.6 lbs) - Total 256 kg (563.2 lbs).
  • Number of fins: Total in 4 sacks was 18,672 and the 2 boxes was 346 - Total of 19, 018 fins.
  • Commercial, black market value value of fins: The officials assigned a conservative value of USD $86,895.30 based on total weight for small, medium, and large fins.

pelagic thresher shark

sandbar shark

scalloped hammerhead

"We have invested seven years in the Galapagos so far," said Sea Shepherd Founder and President Captain Paul Watson. "We have established a solid working relationship with the Galapagos National Park and enforcement authorities in Ecuador. This important bust and seizure of shark fins is a heavy economic blow to the criminals engaged in this destructive and illegal trade."

Sea Shepherd Galapagos will continue to work with the Environmental Police in Ecuador with the objective of putting an end to the illegal shark fin trade.

Additional Photos:


From Left: Sean O'Hearn-Gimenez,
Biologist Milton Cum Jaramillo, and
Edwin Sanchez, representing the
Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment

Assistant district attorney Julio Cesar Tenorio,
District Attorney Lenin Fierro, Victor Jaramillo
of Environment Ministry, and police investigator

 


District Attorney Lenin Fierro counting shark fins,
to his right Assistant District Attorney
Julio Cesar Tenorio, and Dr. Pachaca of the
Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment

Biologist Carlos Villon (Crime Scene Technician)
and Dr. Pachaca, representing the
Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment

 

Biologist Carlos Villon (Crime Scene Technician)
and assistant district attorney Julio Cesar Tenorio

 

 

 

Preparing for the burning of the fins and documentation of the incineration


O'Hearn-Gimenez with the confiscated fins