New Documentary To (once Again) Expose Costa Rica’s Ugly Secret

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Costa Rica has an international reputation as one of the most environmentally-friendly nations on Earth. Its beautiful, pristine waters and miles of protected rain forests attract thousands of eco tourists every year. Yet this small country is also harboring one of the ugliest large-scale slaughtering grounds of wild animals in the world.

Simply put, Costa Rica is in bed with a far-eastern criminal organization, breaking international law by peddling shark fins on the global black market. The fleet, which harbored in Costa Rican waters, also affects neighboring countries as far south as Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and as far north as Mexico. This practice has been the subject of several documentaries, the latest by well-known Chef Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s kitchen fame. He recently traveled to Costa Rica with a film crew to expose the practice.

Shark finning is a multi-billion dollar industry in which the fish are taken from the water, their fins are cut off then they are dumped overboard to die a slow, agonizing death. Over fishing has reduced the world’s shark population by an estimated ninety percent but Costa Rica still refuses to outlaw the practice in their still-rich waters.

This outrages the members of the more responsible sport-fishing community in the country. Charter fishing boat captain Jose Sapiano of Angry Marlin Sportfishing in Costa Rica, commented, “The wholesale shark finning, gill netting and long line fishing that takes places here in Costa Rica, are such ugly and unsustainable practices. Its a wasteful squandering of meaningful sea life and the natural marine resources of this self proclaimed “green” country.

Costa Rica has invested so much in the development of a vibrant tourism industry centered around protecting the environment helping poor local communities develop sustainable eco-tourism, seams a shame to throw it all away for a fast buck at the expense of their once rich natural fisheries. Angry Marlin ONLY practices safe catch and release fishing, all our Sail fish and Marlin are released unharmed and we only take a few fish like mahi mahi or wahoo for our clients to enjoy at local restaurants.”

He is hoping Ramsay’s documentary, which will be shown on his show, Kitchen Nightmare, will raise awareness about the problem. Kitchen Nightmare will start its new season on January 21st but there is no word yet when this particular episode will air.

Ramsay had some harrowing experiences in trying to film the scene. He snuck into a compound occupied by the shark finners and was stopped at gunpoint. He managed to elude the guards and went to an area where he found thousands of shark fins drying in the sun. A member of the shark-finning crew found him and doused him in gasoline threatening to set him on fire if he didn’t leave the area. When police later heard his story, they ordered Ramsay and his crew out of the country.

This is not the first time filmmakers have documented this practice in the country. In 2002, Rob Stewart started making a movie that brought the issue of shark finning into the international spotlight. The documentary was supposed to be about sharks, not shark finning. But during the filming, he ran across a vessel that was taking fins. Stewart realized he had a story that the world needed to be made aware of.

Posing as a fin buyer, Stewart discovered that a Taiwanese criminal organization, called the Shark Fin Mafia, ran the international trade. Stewart got video of long rows of shark fins drying in the heat of the day, getting ready to be shipped. Shark fins from all over Asia could be traced back to Costa Rica. Stewart also filmed hundreds and hundreds of Hammerhead sharks dying on 60 miles of long lines, installed illegally.

Stewarts documentary, Sharkwater, which was released in 2007, helped to give the world a better awareness of the cruelty of the finning process. Incredibly, in spite of increased media attention, Taiwan still get shark fins from Costa Ricas ocean’s and Costa Rica still enjoys its reputation as an eco-friendly country.