The alleged exporter of a shipment of 26 tons of illegal shark fins from Ecuador to Hong Kong has received a fine of a few thousand dollars, showing how people and companies involved in the trade escape serious penalties.
The fine of $3,870 came to less than one percent of the estimated value of the shark fins, which authorities placed at about $1.1 million. The alleged exporter, Eduardo Ramírez Espinoza, is currently under investigation by Ecuador's Undersecretary of Fishery Resources (Subsecretaría de Recursos Pesqueros), Mongabay reports. Ecuador's Ministry of Production levied the fine.
An Ecuadorean company, FishChoez & Villegas, which later sought permits for the illegal shipment, is also under investigation, Mongabay reports. The company, to date, has not been charged with any crime.
The 26 tons of fins, which corresponded to about 38,500 skinned sharks, were discovered by authorities in Hong Kong in April 2020. The fins were largely from fox and silky sharks, two protected species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list.
Once the shipment was discovered, Chinese and Ecuadorean authorities began to work together to trace the origin of the export. In its investigation. Ecuador's Ministry of the Environment and Water (Ministerio del Ambiente, Agua y Transición Ecológica - Maae) discovered FishChoez & Villegas had sought an export permit in July 2020 for cargo that exactly matched the one seized earlier in April. The company's claim asked the environmental ministry's administrators to issue permits for "three containers of dried fish, including shark fins" under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), a global mechanism to oversee wildlife exports. All Cites permits must be issued before exportation.
A lawyer for FishChoez & Villegas told Mongabay that the company has no knowledge of the exporter under investigation or the export permit. InSight Crime attempted to reach the lawyer for comment but was unsuccessful.
According to the EMIS business information portal, FishChoez has seen a 253 percent increase in net income four years after its creation while employing just three people.
According to Mongabay, a criminal sanction has yet to be issued in the case.
InSight Crime Analysis
A fine of just $4,000 in the case of a shipment worth $1.1 million of illegal shark fins underscores that controls are severely lacking.
For example, the brazen attempt to seek a Cites permit after the shipment had already been seized suggests that the management of permits is inadequate. Most illegal shark fins are exported under the guise of legal shipment.
In other cases, shark fins are exported without permits or with falsified permits. Export quotas are also exceeded due to corrupt or inexpert customs officials.
Shark fins can be exported legally from Ecuador under certain parameters. But restrictions are not working properly, César Ipenza, an environmental lawyer familiar with the case, told InSight Crime. He said this is "prompting more fins to come out of Ecuador today."
Restrictions on exports of shark fins are also being circumvented in Peru. Officials in Peru's Ministry of Production (Ministerio de la Producción – Produce), responsible for overseeing the export of species threatened by illegal trade, certified illegally caught and harvested shark fins.
An escalating demand for shark fins from Asian markets, where pricey soups featuring the ingredient can cost up to $300, has fueled a spike in the export of the animal product. In just the first three months of 2021, Ecuador legally exported 86 tons of shark fins valued at $2.2 million.