Illegal Fish Boats Caught Off Costa Rica's Cocos Island

PUNTARENAS, Costa Rica, August 20, 2001 (ENS) - A conservationist patrol ship today seized a trawler and seven support boats illegally fishing within Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park.

Captain Paul Watson, founding president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, was at the helm of the "Ocean Warrior" when he apprehended the boats fishing within eight miles of Cocos Island. Fishing within 14 miles of the uninhabited island is prohibited.

Rangers from Cocos Island National Park were aboard the Ocean Warrior and joined in the capture of the mother ship "San Jose," out of Manta, Ecuador, and seven of its tenders - small boats that were supplying the main vessel.


Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)
The boats were targeting sharks using long lines, a fishing method known for hooking and drowning turtles, rays and sea birds as well as their target catch. Shark fins can sell for more than US$30 a pound at the dock in Asian markets.

As of late Monday afternoon, 50 kilometers (30 miles) of illegal long lines had been hauled up and confiscated from the boats.

"The National Park asked us for help because their boats are too small to go up against the poachers' main ships," said Watson. "They were caught in the act. As we boarded the last boat, the fishermen were throwing hammerheads overboard."

Cocos Island National Park, located 550 kilometers (340 miles) off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, is the world's second largest uninhabited island. In 1997, the park was inscribed on the World Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The underwater world of the national park has become famous due to the attraction it has for divers who rate it as one of the best places in the world to view large deep ocean species such as sharks, rays, tuna and dolphins, sea turtles and more than 200 fish species.


Hammerhead shark near Cocos Island (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
Sharks are exceptionally abundant in Cocos Island waters. Hammerheads, which can reach four meters (12 feet) in length, form schools of 50 or more.

The Friends of Cocos Island Foundation, a non-profit Costa Rican conservation group, has identified long line fishing as the primary threat to the marine wildlife of the island.

"If the justice system imposed jail terms in just a few cases, that would reduce the problem," said Elvira Sancho, executive director of the Foundation. Costa Rican law provides for jail sentences of up to 15 years for poaching.

Aside from independently owned cruise ships and sailboats, dive boats are the only vessels which are permitted to visit this island park regularly.

An early member of Greenpeace, Watson, a Canadian, founded the nonprofit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977, and it is now an international organization based in Santa Monica, California. Sea Shepherd ships have rammed and sunk pirate whalers, halted drift netters on the high seas, stopped draggers from exterminating fish, and saved the lives of sea turtles and seals.