Shark Spining

As long as there is a market for shark fins, fishermen will continue to find ways to elude shark finning bans. The newest loophole fishermen are exploiting is called “shark spining.” Shark spining is a fairly recent phenomenon, and is the act of stripping off all the meat and skin of a shark while leaving its fins attached by a strip of skin to its spinal cord, to get around laws that require a shark’s fins be “naturally attached” to its body when it is brought onto land to be exported for sale. At present, the practice is known to occur only in Costa Rica, where fishermen have developed the process in order to get around their country’s shark finning ban.

While some may consider this to be less cruel than finning, where live animals can be finned before being thrown back into the ocean to die slowly and painfully, the practice is clearly perpetuating the demand for fins and encouraging finning in those countries for which there is not yet a finning ban.

This problem is magnified by the influx of non-Costa Rican nationals from China, Taiwan and Indonesia and reportedly tied to criminal enterprises, that ply the Costa Rican waters and dominate the shark fin trade there, particularly on Costa Rica’s western coast.

In April 2014, the Costa Rican courts issued a ruling with respect to a September 2011 incident, in which Costa Rican customs officials unloaded 332 “spined” shark skeletons from a boat owned by a Taiwanese national. This was the first and only instance where prosecutors brought charges against a vessel owner for shark spining. While shark spining certainly violates the spirit of Costa Rica’s shark finning ban, Judge Franklin Lara absolved the vessel owner for her alleged crimes, stating she had not broken the law because she never unloaded the shark skeletons, and even ordered the state to pay $6,500 to compensate the vessel owner for the seized fins.

Conservation groups fear that this ruling will allow judges to interpret “spining” as a “natural attachment” in the future. These concerns apply not only to Costa Rica, and to every country that contains a “naturally attached” requirement in their shark fin bans.