I’m sad to report that today’s topic is not an uplifting one. The Costa Rican government has publicly stated that they will no longer support protective legislation for shark populations. According to the Tico Times, a Costa Rican news source, the decision was made to support local fisherman and the country’s fishing industry. This stance will allow fisherman to catch and kill shark species that are of commercial interest. Additionally, the Costa Rican government is looking into revising minimum catch size requirements for economically important fish and legalizing shrimp trawling, which was banned in the country two years ago.
These decisions come on the heels of violent protests that took place last month related to fishery regulations. Though the country has not publicly stated they are against the sustainable management of sharks, this decision seems to have been made with only short-term national revenue in mind. Sharks are K-selected animals, meaning they give birth to few offspring and have a relatively long lifespan. It takes sharks longer to reach sexual maturity than most economically important fish, and when they do they birth fewer offspring. This makes it more difficult for shark populations to rebound from periods of decline. Additionally, sharks are keystone (or apex) predators. Similar to sea otters, they have a disproportionately large effect on the rest of their ecosystem. Removing sharks for these habitats can and will have detrimental effects on the rest of the trophic system.
While we at SUFB are all for making a living, shark fishing is not the answer. Costa Rica is known as one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, being home at approximately 6% of the world’s described species. The name literally translates to “rich coast.” Snorkeling, scuba diving, and boat tours would bring money into many coastal Costa Rican communities without extracting resources from the already-threatened oceans. Millions of sharks are killed each year, many as a result of finning. This process supplies shark fins for shark fin soup, which gives it that elusive rubbery flavour that everyone loves. While shark finning is another topic for a later date, it’s clear that global shark populations are already in trouble. Costa Rica’s decision certainly doesn’t help.