Peru has convicted shark fin traffickers for the first time in its history but more is needed to make a dent in this prolific illegal industry.
On February 9, a court in the western town of Santa sentenced two people to four and a half years in prison for the attempted 2018 sale of a load of 1,800 kilograms of shark fins.
In mid-March 2018, environmental prosecutors stopped a truck traveling from Tumbes, a city on Peru’s northern Pacific coast, to the capital Lima. The truck held 51 bags of wrapped shark fins. A subsequent investigation found the fins were to be illegally sold by Jorge Roldan Angulo Sánchez, deputy manager of a seafood company, to a buyer, identified as Poly Diks Pinto Gonzáles, for the sum of $18,000. The fins were then set to be exported as legal animal product to Hong Kong.
The international organization Oceana, dedicated to the protection of the world's oceans, identified the seized fins and found that they belonged to six protected species, including hammerhead, pelagic thresher, smooth and silky sharks.
According to Oceana, the illegal shark fin trade in Peru is rampant. Much of the demand comes from China and other Eats Asian countries, where fins can be sold for around $700 a kilogram. In 2020, over 2.3 tons of shark fins were seized in Peru, as well as 28 tons of shark meat.
Many of these shark fins arrive in Peru from Ecuador, where shark fishing is completely prohibited and the sale of fins is only allowed if it can be proven the sharks were accidentally caught in fishing nets.
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While, on its own, this sentencing is unlikely to lead to a prolonged drop in Peru’s shark fin trafficking, there are several important points to highlight.
First, the sentencing sets a legal precedent in the country’s fight against shark finning. “This is a major success for Peru and it is crucial that judges have begun to understand that we’re dealing with species that play a critical role in our oceans,” César Ipenza, a lawyer specialized in environmental affairs, told InSight Crime.
Second, this success can bring more attention to the high number of shark fins sent from Ecuador to Peru. According to Alicia Kuroiwa, director of threatened habitats and species for Oceana in Peru, the fins are wrongfully imported under the justification that they were accidentally caught during legal fishing, while they were intentionally caught.
The problem, explained Kuroiwa, is that Peru allows shark fins to enter the country from Ecuador with nothing more than an “incidental fishing” certificate, with no checks on the origins and no sourcing of the catch. They are often then included in loads of legally obtained fins.
“Essentially, Peru is laundering illegal shark fins from Ecuador,” Kuroiwa told InSight Crime.
Illegal shark fins also travel between Ecuador and Peru as contraband, camouflaged among fins of species whose trade is authorized, according to a report by Mongabay. The Ecuadorean town of Puerto Bolívar along the border is reportedly a center for the collection and transfer of illegal fins between the two countries.
Third, this case has highlighted the lack of control Peru has over transshipments carried out by foreign vessels in its own ports. Transshipment consists of transferring fish caught in international waters onto containers to be sent around the globe. Kuroiwa told InSight Crime that this is a window of opportunity for traffickers of shark fins and other illegally caught species since authorities only have the capacity to check a small percentage of containers.