American shark finners busted
|COOK ISLANDS (7 Nov 2008) — The U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement officers busted American shark finners in the Cook Islands.
Officials told CDNN that Cook Islands Ministry of Fisheries law enforcement officers and a boarding team from the 68.5 meter Coast Guard Cutter Walnut found shark fins aboard the Pacific Horizon, a 21.5 meter fishing vessel homeported in San Diego, California.
The bust was enabled by a new bilateral law enforcement agreement signed in July 2008 between the U.S. and the Cook Islands, as well as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1996, which prohibits all U.S. vessels from having shark fins aboard.
Authorities seized the shark fins as evidence that will be transferred to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) specialists who will determine if the case merits prosecution.
Despite being caught with shark fins aboard, the Pacific Horizon was allowed to continue fishing and the California fishing boat operator could avoid prosecution if the NMFS fails to issue a Notice of Violation (NOVA) against the American shark finners.
U.S. Coast Guard officials applauded the new agreement, which enables joint boardings and inspections of vessels within another country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
“The boarding was a unique opportunity because the Coast Guard does not normally have the authority to board vessels in other countries’ EEZs. Now that we have the shiprider agreement, it is now possible to conduct these joint boardings,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jay Caputo, chief of living marine resources at the Fourteenth Coast Guard District.
Carolyn Ridderman, the district’s international affairs officer, said the shiprider agreement will facilitate more at-sea boardings, which will aid the Coast Guard’s mission to protect living marine resources.
Fishermen and so-called “interactive” scuba diving operators are among the many threats to the survival of endangered shark species.