Illegal Fishing in Cocos Island: A Continuing Threat

Photo courtesy from Nakawe Project

The underwater flora and fauna of Cocos Island is widely diverse composed of about 3 species of sea turtles, 50 species of mollusks, over 30 types of corals, 60 different kinds of crustaceans and 250 species of fish, all of which are thriving in great quantity. Together with its inland and upland ecosystem, this entire island displays an extraordinary bounty of nature that it needs to be protected for other generations to witness and enjoy. Thus, all forms of destruction including commercial fishing is strictly prohibited inside the 12-mile (19.3 kilometers) protective zone of Cocos Island National Park.

Legally speaking, the mere presence of a fishing vessel inside the protected zone is a prima facie or obvious evidence that they will do fishing, thus making them illegal fishermen. Despite this restriction, fishermen are still poaching this precious nature reserve. On a defense stated by some illegal fishermen, their presence in Cocos Island is not to fish out all the species but only targets a few like sharks and tunas. But what these illegal fishers do not know is that they are breaking the dynamics of the food chain where most of their targeted species occupy the top position of the food pyramid where if you take them off the chart can lead to the disruption of this delicate marine ecosystem. Further, what is worst is the way they fish out this highly-priced species causing them to employ methods that affects other non-targeted species and the very habitat where these valuable species thrive.


Target species: Sharks and Tunas
Bi-catch: Dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays and other species that gets in the line

We would like to zero in on this type of fishing method as this is the prevalent way illegal fisherman do their living in Cocos Island.

Equipped with a mile-long of fishing line attached with thousands of baited hooks, fishing vessels tow this “line of death” inside the restricted 12-mile protected zone. A growing concerned has alarmed both the park rangers and divers alike as the illegal fishing vessels are recently towing their lines closer to the shore where visiting divers have reported fishing lines being entangled in the animals and the reef.

Photo courtesy from The Dodo

The claims of illegal fishermen that they are only fishing-out targeted species like sharks and tunas is a lie. Even if we disregard several physical evidences where other species are being caught in this kind of fishing method, a mere theoretical analysis will tell you that whoever bites that baited hook will become a part of the catch.

Photo courtesy from Rethinking Philanthropy Lisa Genasci

Let us not deny that the main reason why illegal fishermen poach the waters of Cocos Island is due to the fact that it houses a large population of sharks where it has been considered as one of the world’s greatest shark congregation. A single fishing vessel can carry several tons of shark fins before they come back to port and process their produce where a kilogram of dried shark fin can fetch up to $450 per pound and majority of the shark fin demand comes from China and Taiwan. And when those shark fins arrive in Chinese restaurants, they will be cooked into the infamous shark fin soup where a bowl can cost up to $1,000 per serving depending on the species of shark.

The INHUMANE WAY of Shark Finning

Photo courtesy from Nature Table

Another point that we would like to focus is that these illegal fishermen are only after the shark’s fin and they have no business dealing with other parts of the shark’s body. With this, we can say that traditional shark harvesting in the past is much better than today’s practice where the old-fashion makes use of all the body parts.

But with today’s shark fishing practice, it can be considered inhumane to the sharks. After hours of towing and the fishing vessel is ready to load up the lines, sharks are finned-out alive and thrown back to the sea where they drowned to their death. There have been reports of abandoned fishing lines where hundreds of sharks are still attached to the baited hook but already lost their fins.


Photo courtesy from Sites-Google

You may wonder why shark fin soup is such a big menu in Asia especially China and Taiwan where you can assume that it tastes so delicious. We cannot deny that many of us loves Chinese food, but for me, shark fin soup does not taste anything like Chinese food where you will be expecting a burst of flavor in your mouth.

In reality, it tastes something like starch where fancy restaurants just add spices and seasoning to enhance the flavor. But in reality, an instant cup noodle taste better than shark fin soup, or if you love Japanese cuisine, the miso soup is way much better.

I tried talking to a Chinese friend and ask him why he loves shark fin soup. He told me that despite tasting like starch, what they are after is the health benefit where they claim that shark fin soup has some aphrodisiac properties. I replied to him, if that’s the case, then I rather take in performance enhancing pills rather than eating shark fin soup. He rebutted to me that it is also a status symbol where only those who can afford can eat it. His rebuttal was also accompanied by an embarrassing smile. So, I rest my case.

Are we done? No, not yet. Now that we know that eating shark fin soup really gives us little or no health benefit, let us now focused on how these illegal fishing practices in Cocos Island is now being addressed.

Fisheries Management and other Initiatives that can bring Significant Change

Government Initiative

Since there is a significant increase in illegal fishing activity around Cocos Island, the Ministry of Environment and Energy, the agency primarily responsible in managing the Cocos Island National Park, has collaborated with the National Coast Guard Service to compliment the Park Rangers patrol trips around this offshore island. In fact, they are considering to assign 6 new Coast Guard Officers to be stationed in Cocos Island. Further, from its original 8.2 miles (13 kilometers), the protected zone was increased to 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) where the marine reserve is situated.

The strengthening of Cocos Island does not just end in apprehension and law enforcement, but they are also firming-up the filing of legal cases where close coordination with national legal authorities are on the way. The latest on this matter is the apprehension of a fishing vessel caught in the act while fishing and was convicted with a huge fine of $300,000.

Non-Government Organization Initiative

Photo courtesy from Nakawe Project

Aside from government initiated programs, there is a growing number of concerned groups that are helping in the conservation of Cocos Island underwater resources. For example, a renowned restoration network is tying up with a crowdsourcing platform creating the so-called “digital patrol” where you just need to log-in and access the satellite imagery to find illegal fishers around the protected zone of Cocos Island.

Universities and Research Institutions are also a great help in this endeavor where the data generated from the studies will help the Costa Rican government create an up to date management that is designed to address the present needs of Cocos Island.

Personal Initiative

It is not necessary that you need to be in Costa Rica, particularly in Cocos Island, to help and participate in the conservation efforts and the stoppage of illegal fishing activities. A simple act of not patronizing shark fin soup can be good sign of your participation in this campaign to stop illegal fishing and shark finning not just in Costa Rica but in other parts of the world. This small act, if consolidated and supported by others, can lead to the significant decrease in demand for shark fin thereby shifting the illegal fishing practices to a more sustainable one.

As you read the premises of this article, we can presume that you might be interested in trying shark fin soup. Again, we reiterate that it is not delicious and does not give you the health benefits it has been claiming. If you are really in to conscious diet with maximum health benefits, we suggest you try vegan, vegetarian or pescetarian if you love fish meat.

At the end of the day, addressing the illegal fishing activity in Cocos Island is not just the sole responsibility of the Costa Rican Government. But it calls for a collaborative effort and participation of everyone concerned.

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video courtesy from Sea Save Foundation

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