Out of Control Poaching on Cocos Island
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society understands that any change in Costa Rica must come from Costa Ricans, and it is these individuals who will make the difference. But they need support, and Sea Shepherd is working to help raise that support.
SSCS Exposes Illegal Fishing
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is finding out more and more about the extent of illegal fishing in Central America each day and it is not a pretty picture.
The slaughter of sharks is enormous, with demand for sharks not just from the Asian market for shark fin soup but also surprisingly from the worldwide demand for shark fibers in the computer industry.
The fibers from the spinal cord and the fins of sharks are in demand as insulating material for use in computers, as well as for the natural health markets. Sea Shepherd is investigating these markets further.
In addition, the ports of Puntarenas and Caldera has seen five large-scale tuna seiners unload their cargos in the last ten days.
Each of these expensive, fast and efficient vessels carry helicopters and all are fishing on porpoise, i.e. using herds of dolphins to locate tuna and in the process drowning large numbers of dolphins. These vessels are registered in Panama, Venezuela, Colombia and Spain.
“The fishing industry represents big money in Central and South America,” reports Captain Paul Watson. “Big money translates into political power and I’m afraid that what the fishing corporations want, the fishing corporations will get.”
In Costa Rica, the full spectrum of the worldwide fisheries problem can be observed. On the top there is the large tuna boats and the Taiwanese offshore fisheries. These are vessels that fish permanently offshore and unload their catch onto packers to bring to shore so as to not disrupt their non-stop fishing activities.
Lower down on the scale are the small Costa Rican longliners. On the surface these look like poor fishermen trying to get by, with a need to feed their families and making very little. And to some extent this is very true. Except for one thing, these boats make money and the money goes to the owners, the men who do not take the risks and do the hard work.
These same men send poor underpaid fishermen out in poorly constructed vessels without anchors, liferafts, and safety equipment. Many of these men are killed each year by the negligence of these vessel owners. However, when caught fishing illegally, the owners trot out their poor employees who cry out that they are simply poor fishermen trying to feed their families.
It is ironic that Sea Shepherd is accused of attempting to kill Costa Rican fishermen, by the same men (fishing boat owners), who actually are responsible for killing Costa Rican fishermen every year because of negligence.
Sea Shepherd crewmembers have never caused an injury or a death to any person in over 25 years of operations.
Even lower down on the scale are the individual fishermen fishing from piers and from the shore. The numbers taken are undocumented. There is no enforcement on size, sex, or species restrictions. Sea Shepherd crew have observed small fish being taken on the main pier in Puntarenas that are tossed aside on the cement to die – and left there.
SSCS crewmembers have observed puffer fish being caught, deliberately killed and tossed back. This mortality is apparently small but when it is taken into consideration that there are literally tens of thousands of isolated fishermen doing this, the numbers of fish destroyed is tremendous.
Observation of the beaches in Puntarenas have shown large numbers of dead fish being washed up in the surf and littering the beaches.
The same beaches, where hundreds of Costa Ricans swim each day, are littered with used condoms, coke bottles, disposable diapers, and assorted trash. It’s as if people have evolved the ability to visually deny the filth around them, instead of addressing the problem by cleaning it up.
In Costa Rica, evidence clearly shows how nations like Taiwan use foreign aid to expand their fishing operations. Taiwan gives money to the Costa Rican government and helps to fund the development of the fishing industry. In return, Taiwanese vessels are allowed to operate in Costa Rican waters and a blind eye given to their legal infractions.
Tuna sizes are drastically down from a decade before. There are fewer fish and much fewer sharks and billfish. Turtle mortality has escalated due to the shrimpers, and the longliners. Dolphins continue to be slaughtered in the giant purse seine nets.
The bottom line is this: Costa Rica is considered to be the most ecologically aware and most environmentally educated country in Central America. Despite this, marine wildlife is seriously threatened by over-fishing and illegal fishing. Cocos Island National Park is seriously threatened by poachers.
The marine eco-system is in serious trouble and the only thing that will save it is an aggressive, determined, and serious campaign by the new government of Costa Rica to turn it around.