Shark Fishing in Colombia

Colombia’s marches show little sign of stopping, and protestors have expressed a range of reasons for being on the streets, from frustrations about proposed economic and pension reforms to discontent with the government and a demand for increased education funding. Amongst these many reasons are also the quotas proposed on the fishing of shark species.

Back in October, Colombia’s minister of agriculture introduced Resolution 350 which established fishing quotas for various marine species, including sharks. The four-page document authorised the fishing of 125 tons of shark in the Caribbean sea, 5.2 of which include fins, and 350 tons of shark from the Pacific. This caused widespread controversy in both national and international media, and led to much criticism from the general public and environmental organisations. However, it is not the first time that this kind of practice has been permitted, dating back as far as 1990, and being updated every year by the minister of agriculture.

So if this practice is nothing new, then why has this resolution been so polemical? There are various arguments, but the main concern is the fishing of species that are already endangered, such as the ‘sedoso’ shark, a variety of hammer-shark. In Colombia there are around 76 species of shark, all of which play an important role in diversifying marine ecosystems and are key to maintaining algae and coral reefs. Many environmental and ecological organisations say that the numbers stated in the resolution are simply too high, and without sufficient justification. 

After the release of the resolution, Sandra Bessudo, biologist and director of the Malpelo Foundation tweeted describing the resolution as unacceptable, which further sparked widespread anger on social media, with some of the comments describing the resolution as “criminal” “savage” “abusive” and “abominable”.  

MarViva, an organisation which has been working in Colombia for several years towards the sustainable use of marine resrouces, also issued a statement regarding the controversy, with its spokesperson highlighting the importance of demanding more scientific information and population studies to justify the quotas. “This resolution encourages the fishing of endangered species of sharks and rays; species considered of vital importance for the health of marine ecosystems and therefore for the food security of coastal communities,” they said.

Another major concern is that unlike last year’s resolution, this one makes reference shark fins. Although ‘aleteo’ (the de-finning of sharks and then throwing them back into the ocean) is illegal in many countries, including Colombia, many people worry that allowing the commercialisation of shark fins within the quotas will only serve to further incentify the killing of these species. As Felipe Ladino, an ecologist at the Malpelo Foundation, explains, these shark fins weight little more than just 20 grams, and that “in order to obtain 2.1 tons one would have to kill around 110,000 sharks.” With poor monitoring of fishing practices in Colombia, there is a growing worry that fisheries may try to capture more sharks in order to sell them to the asian market, where they are extremely valuable and highly marketable.

In response to the criticisms, minister of agriculture Andrés Valencia assures that the de-finning of sharks remains illegal in Colombia and that all sharks must arrive at ports with their fins still in tact. He also maintains that by putting these quotas in place, “the aim is to reduce the illegal and indiscriminate fishing of shark species and selling on the black market.” In addition, Valencia states that the quotas were established bearing in mind information from existing studies of each species.
However, last week Colombia’s Procuraduría spoke out, stating that the resolution should be modified, suspended or revoked because there is “not enough scientific information, nor clarity regarding the monitoring that will take place” for fishermen. In addition, they explained that, considering the illegal nature of the de-finning of sharks, the term “fin” should not even be included in the document, as it could be misinterpreted as permission to participate in the practice, especially when it comes to artisanal fishing. The Procuraduría also insisted that there needs to be sufficient information regarding each species, given that each one has “its own growth rate, reproductive age and migration patterns.”  Furthermore, it adds that the document makes no reference to the minimum sizes of species captured, which could lead to the fishing of animals that have not yet reached their reproductive age, and would therefore endanger the populations of these species.

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