Shark fins are worth $300 per pound in the global marketplace but they are illegal in Honduras and five other countries; Palau, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau, the Bahamas, and the Maldives. Together those comprise more than 1.8 million square miles of ocean. On June 24, 2011, President Porfirio Lobo Sosa announced a permanent shark sanctuary in Honduran waters. The designation encompasses all 240,000 square kilometers (92,665 square miles) of the country's exclusive economic zone on its Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
So when the fins, mostly from nurse sharks, were seized in April by the Honduran navy, it was a safe assumption the fins were obtained illegally. Still, with 14% inflation and 22% of the country below poverty levels surely something could have been done with the hundreds of shark fins, worth that $300 per pound as mentioned. The poachers were already penalized but actual law-abiding poor people could have been helped with the money for a product perfectly legal in plenty of other countries.
Instead, President Porfirio Lobo joined the country's top law enforcement officials yesterday in a bit of political theater, to watch the burning of the illegal shark fins.
Honduran officials burn hundreds of shark fins. Credit: Javier Maradiaga, Pew Environment Group
"Unfortunately there are few limits on the number of sharks that can be killed beyond the borders of our sanctuary, but we are committed to putting a stop to this activity in Honduras," Lobo said. "These animals play an important role in maintaining healthy coastal areas, our fisheries are dependent upon them, and they provide revenue by bringing tourists and divers to Honduras to see sharks. They are worth far more alive than dead."
In 2011 and 2012, Palau and the Marshall Islands fined Taiwanese and Japanese vessels $65,000 and $125,000 respectively for crossing into their waters.
"We salute the government of Honduras and its law enforcement officers for swiftly implementing its shark sanctuary," said Maximiliano Bello, who advises the Pew Environment Group on shark conservation and spoke at the event. "More comprehensive measures and enforcement actions such as these are still needed to protect the ocean's top predators from extinction."