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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 191       E-mail us    
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Yearly shark fin haul may be as much as 73 million
By the Pew Institute for Ocean Science

The first quantitative study of sharks harvested for their valuable fins estimates that as few as 26 million and as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide. This number is three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, according to the study published as the cover story in the October edition of Ecology Letters.

“The shark fin trade is notoriously secretive.  But we were able to tap into fin auction records and convert from fin sizes and weights to whole shark equivalents to get a good handle on the actual numbers,” says lead author Shelley Clarke, an American fisheries scientist based in Hong Kong and Japan.

A team of researchers calculated the number of sharks represented in the fin trade using a statistical model and data from Hong Kong traders.  When the figures were converted to shark weight, the total is three to four times higher than shark catch figures reported to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.

Researchers made their way through wholesale and retail sales locations and counted, measured and weighed dried shark fins.

(Costa Rica is a major collection point of shark fins to the Asian market. For years the shark fins have been unloaded at a private pier in Puntarenas and no accurate estimates exist of the number of shark fins moving through the port. The practice has been soundly criticized by environmentalists and the Sala IV constitutional court, which says private piers are illegal.)

“Without any real data, numbers as high as 100 million had been floating around for a while, but we had no way of knowing whether or not this was accurate,” says Ellen Pikitch, co-author and executive director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science.  “This paper, which produces the first estimate based on real data, shows that the actual number of sharks killed is indeed very high but is more likely to be in the order of tens of millions, with a median estimate of 38 million sharks killed annually.”

Concern about the shark finning trade has grown over the past few years as demand has surged beyond sustainable levels for slow-to-produce shark populations and without regulation in most countries.  Three shark species are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, and 20 percent are threatened with extinction according to the 2006 Red List of Threatened Species.

Used in shark fin soup, a delicacy served at Chinese weddings and other celebrations for centuries and more recently at business dinners in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim, fins are the most valuable part of the shark. Typically the fins are sliced off as the shark, sometimes still alive, is thrown back into the ocean to die.  The shark fin trade appears to be keeping pace with the growing demand for seafood — up 5 percent per year in mainland China.  

Pew Institute for Ocean Science photo
A trophy basking shark fin is for display and not for sale at a shop in Taipei's market area.

Determining whether shark populations can continue to withstand the magnitude of catches estimated by researcher Clarke and her team depends upon the size and status of each population.

“One of the most productive sharks is the blue shark, and it appears that the catch rate is near the maximum sustainable level,” says Ms. Clarke.  “But such assessments were not available for other, less productive shark species.  It is quite likely that sustainable catch levels have already been exceeded in some cases.”

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization compiles catch records for sharks and other fish, based on information submitted from member countries.  Where possible, the agency attempts to verify the accuracy of the figures, but verification often is not practical.  Many sharks may be recorded as unidentified fish and thus not be recognizable as sharks in the U.N. records.

“Due to the low value of shark meat in many markets, shark fins may be the only part of the shark retained, and often these fins are not recorded in the catch log or when landed at ports.  I knew we had to somehow access the major markets if we were to accurately estimate the number of sharks killed,” says Ms. Pikitch, who initiated the project.

The mission of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science is to advance ocean conservation through science. 

Established by a multi-year grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pew Institute for Ocean Science is a major program of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.   


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A.M.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 191


Costa Rica Expertise
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Comisión Nacional de Prevención de
Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias photo

Big backhoe at work on the Quebrada Calabaza

Cleanup work continues
in flood-ravaged areas


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency commission contractors were at work in Palmares Monday clearing away debris from a river and ditches so that any future rainfall will not cause the kind of damage inflicted last week.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that similar work was going on in San Ramón and in Desamparados.

The work in Palmares involved the Río Azul and the Quebrada Calabaza. Saturday geologists with the commission listed 16 landslide areas in Palmares. Although the commission said these are not high risk areas, it suggested that local officials keep an eye on them.

Fortunately for the battered communities, a dry air mass over the Caribbean has caused sunny weather since Friday.

The commission also was working to clear the Río Cañas that flows through Los Guidos and San Juan de Dios de Desamparados. In Guanacaste, the Río Sequito flooded some 20 homes Thursday. That was the same day that in Palmares some 150 homes were flooded out.

Residents are now cleaning the mud and trying to repair the patios that was swept away by the water. In Palmares some seven bridges were destroyed.

Gas prices cut again
thanks to no hurricanes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gas prices are being cut again. The agency that controls prices said Monday that super was going down 14 colons a liter to 499 and that regular was going down 16 colons to 469.  There are about 520 colons to the U.S. dollar.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said that the decrease reflected a dip in price on the world market, no hurricane threats to the U.S. Gulf Coast and anticipation that the U.S. economy is slowing.

The new prices will take effect after the decree is published in the official newspaper, La Gaceta, probably by the end of the week.

Port agency slush fund
will go to pay its workers


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The agency that runs the two Caribbean docks got the go ahead Monday to pay the estimated 470 million colons it owes workers. After government officials wracked their brains for a week trying to figure out how to legally pay the dock workers, it turns out that the Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica had a few colons salted way.

Make that 10 billion colons, about $19 million.

The money comes from fees shippers pay to have their goods loaded and unloaded at the two main Caribbean ports: Limón and Moín.

The money owed to dockworkers comes from a 2005 agreement negotiated by the Pacheco administration. At first officials thought they could get big shippers, like the banana exporting companies, to pay the money. They had done so under similar circumstances in the past, but this time they declined.

Curiously, it was the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos which broke the deadlock. This is the agency that is in charge of setting rates for public services, like taxis and the docks.

Dock workers had threatened to strike and invoked their usual technique of stalling when there is work to be done. The board of directors of the regulating agency worked late Sunday to decide that the port administration could use its money to pay workers.

The port administration would still have $18 million left.

However, the regulating agency, in its summary of the case, said that it is obvious that the port administration has been charging rates that are too high for years. The regulating agency will begin a study.

Police continue crackdown
on home-brewed liquor


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A home business is fine unless you are brewing bootlegged alcohol. That's what the Fuerza Pública says was happening at a home in the Guadalupe district of Cartago. Two men have been detained. There were identified by the last names of Campos Arias and Rodríguez Arrieta.

Officers said that the men were trading the alcohol for kitchen appliances, CD players and just about any other kind of device purchasers could bring. Police have stepped up action against illegal stills after several hundred persons became sick and nearly 50 died from similar illegal liquors in Nicaragua.

Intel going really big screen

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Intel Corp. and Omnicom Media Group has announced a collaboration to develop "10 foot" or large  screen advertising templates for Internet-delivered advertising to TVs connected to Intel® Viiv™ technology-based computers.

Ad-supported interactive viewing in the "10 foot" environment  will help fuel more compelling and premium entertainment experiences, the companies said. Intel Viiv
technology delivers a variety of rich, entertainment content to the TV from the  Internet and provides a foundation for interactive and highly targeted  advertising in the living room.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 191








Municipal police turn blue,
but it is not their moods

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officer Reyner Corella (right) is a member of the Policía Municipal, the San José city police force. This unit used to wear gray uniforms.

But now they are wearing the blue to avoid confusion with employees of several security firms who also wear gray uniforms.

Corella was on duty Monday in the downtown area, which is where most of the municipal police can be seen.

Fuerza Pública officers also wear blue. These policemen hold jobs through the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Although they patrol the downtown, too, it is the municipal police who enforce municipal ordinances.

One such law forbids sales by street vendors. So sales people used to have fair warning when they saw gray uniforms in the distance. Now they better roll up their merchandise and run when they see anything blue.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas



U.S. will launch effort against Pacific coast prostitution
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. State Department is bankrolling an effort to attack prostitution in Costa Rica's Pacific coast.

Appropriately, the kickoff will be Friday in Jacó, which is considered a major center for prostitution.

Predictably, the effort will involve an international agency, the 55-year-old International Organization for Migration. Also involved is Fundación Rahab, which provides temporary and permanent housing, education and job training to women who leave prostitution.

The name of the program is prevention, protection and attention to persons who are victims of trafficking in the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica.

The project will not be fully outlined until Friday when representatives of key Costa Rican agencies are expected to attend the meeting in the Hotel Best Western Jacó Beach.

These include the ministries of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, of Trabajo and of Turismo; the Instituto Nacional de la Mujer, Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social, the Dirección General de Migración and the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency.  

Prostitution by those 18 and over is not treated as a crime in Costa Rica.             

So these Costa Rican agencies have been slow to take steps against prostitution, although immigration conducts occasional sweeps of tourist areas and detains Dominican, Panamanian, Nicaraguan and Colombian prostitutes they
may find there. In fact, only six years ago Costa Rican officials were denying that child prostitution exists. Then when they were faced with clear evidence, they claimed that child prostitution was a plague caused by North American tourists. One solution was to hang posters at the airport.

Prostitution in Costa Rica is a long-time cultural phenomenon that exists even in communities tourists hardly ever visit. The relative prosperity of Costa Rica and the presence of First World tourists lures prostitutes and would-be prostitutes here.

The United States has declared zero tolerance for human trafficking, although many of the self-employed prostitutes here can hardly be characterized as victims.

Many come to Costa Rica seeking that type of employment.

Immigration has not had a lot of success because savvy foreign prostitutes quickly arrange fake marriages with locals here, and this allows them to stay in the country. For a time Russian and east European prostitutes were entering Costa Rica on visas that said they were Spanish-language students.

Jacó is in the middle of a boom, and many business people, including prostitutes, have left the Central Valley for work there. A young Russian prostitute died there two years ago, the presumed victim of someone who wanted to collect a debt. A year earlier, an underage Nicaraguan prostitute died of a drug overdose after a party on a boat at the Los Sueños Marina, also on the central pacific coast.

Fundación Rahab says that its work with former prostitutes includes spiritual counseling.






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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 191


Crack user is principal suspect in murder of U.S. expat in Rohrmoser apartment
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A local crack addict has emerged as the principal suspect in the murder of a U.S. citizen in Rohrmoser last week.

Investigators are working on the theory that the female addict tried to steal items from the home of the victim and that two men accompanying her committed the murder when the victim unexpectedly woke up.

The crime is believed to have happened early Thursday. The victim is Mark Judson Watkins, 58, a retiree here who came from Florida. He had lived in several places in the metropolitan area over the last several years.
Watkins was known for spending money on the disadvantaged he encountered.

A driver located his body when he came to pick up Watkins Thursday about 8:30 a.m. The man was not fully dressed and suffered three stab wounds to the body.

An employee of the Morgue Judicial said that no results of an examination there would be available to be released for several days.

The theory of the burglary turned to murder is supported by neighbors who reported seeing a trio leave the area in a vehicle early Thursday.


Defense chiefs will meet next month in Managua to discuss common security
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Western Hemisphere defense ministers will discuss forming common approaches to addressing transnational threats, strengthening regional security cooperation, and emphasizing the links among democracy, security and economic opportunity at the seventh Western Hemisphere defense ministerial, to be held Oct. 1 to 5 in Managua, Nicaragua.

U.S. Department of Defense officials will join defense ministers of the 33 other democratic nations at the meeting. Representatives also will discuss peacekeeping operations in the hemisphere, response to natural disasters and other humanitarian operations, and the removal of land mines from the region, according to the Defense Department.

Other scheduled participants include José Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States; Brazilian Brig. Gen. Jorge Armando de Almeida Ribeiro, chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board; Edwin Carrington, secretary-general of the 15-nation bloc of
Caribbean nations known as CARICOM; and Marcela Donadio, executive secretary of the Argentine-based  Security and Defense Network in Latin America, known by its Spanish acronym of RESDAL. 

The last group describes its mission as bringing together civil and military leaders throughout the Americas to discuss relations between governments and military.

The Nicaraguan government said in its statement that it will be the first Central American nation to host the hemispheric defense ministers’ forum.  The government added that the designation of Nicaragua to host the forum represents a “hemispheric recognition of the leadership our country has been developing in the areas of security and defense.”

Nicaragua said it is promoting a regional program for arms limitation and control “to reach a reasonable balance of power in Central America,” the “unilateral destruction of a significant part of Nicaragua’s inventory of surface-to-air missiles,” and the destruction of the country’s total arsenal of anti-personnel land mines.


Leftist rebels in Colombia may be getting ready to make a hostage swap
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian rebels have released a video of lawmakers they have held hostage since 2002.

The pictures released Sunday showed 12 hostages sending greetings to loved ones.  The rebel Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia kidnapped the lawmakers more than four years ago in the city of Cali.
Release of the video is seen as an indication that the rebel group is seeking to exchange its hostages for jailed rebels held by the government.

The rebels asked for a demilitarized zone near Cali from which it can negotiate a prisoner swap with the government.
The 12 politicians are among scores of hostages held by the leftist rebels. They were kidnapped in April 2002 by rebels disguised in military uniforms. 


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