Peru’s government agency entrusted with protecting endangered species is under investigation for collaborating with shark fin traffickers who export illegal product to Asian markets, shining a spotlight on the state’s complicity in this illicit catch.
An investigation by Ojo-Público has revealed how the the Ministry of Production (Ministerio de la Producción – PRODUCE), which is responsible for the protection of species threatened by illegal trade, facilitated the nation’s booming illicit shark fin industry by certifying illegally caught and harvested product.
Following record seizures of almost 50 tons of shark fins by Peru’s customs office between November 2018 and December 2019, the country’s authorities have launched an investigation into the administrative body that certifies wildlife exports.
The majority of shark fins trafficked from Peru end up in China, where a kilogram can sell for up to $700. Global trade in the commodity is worth close to $1 billion a year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Peru is the world’s third largest exporter of shark fins, both legally and illegally sourced, shipping an estimated $25 million worth of the product to Hong Kong between 2014 and 2018, reported Ojo-Público.
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Major exporters of black market shark products in the country reportedly maintain links with key personnel within the Ministry of Production. The authority is entrusted with issuing permits under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global mechanism to oversee wildlife exports.
These officials fast track CITES authorizations for select companies, helping them bypass legal obstacles and certifying illegal exports under the guise of legitimate trade.
Four CITES certificates were approved last year for a shark fin export company that has been linked to the alleged boss of a criminal organization known as “Los Piratas de Puerto Pizarro” (The Pirates of the Pizarro Port). The group operated out of the northwestern coastal city of Tumbes, and its 44 members have been accused of a number of crimes, including homicide and robbery.
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With the sale of shark fins still permitted in Peru, corrupt actors are able to easily camouflage fins harvested from protected species within legal shipments of the product. This allows the contraband to enter international markets under CITES certification.
An escalating demand for shark fins from Asian markets, where a pricey soup featuring the ingredient is considered a delicacy, has fueled a spike in the export of the animal product from Peru over the last several years.
While there have been superficial attempts at installing measures against the shark fin trade, political will to combat environmental crime in Peru has historically been low.
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The country’s customs authorities are ill-equipped and undertrained, leaving them unable to distinguish between the legal and illegal species of shark fin. As a result, they are incapable of properly implementing CITES requirements, allowing criminals to continue exploiting security flaws in the system.
The “lack of regulation and enforcement” in the international shark fin industry, reported the South China Morning Post, has seen “legal and illegal products blend into an impossible-to-separate quagmire.”
At the same time, corrupt PRODUCE officials are actively facilitating fin traffickers, allowing them to circumvent environmental regulations and move hundreds of tons of the product through the country’s ports every year.
The same dynamics are evident in other types of eco trafficking in Peru. The country’s logging industry mirrors the shark fin fishery as a magnet for corruption. In 2017, one in seven of the nation’s forestry officials was under investigation due to falsifying the origins of illegally extracted timber.
Traffickers, however, will continue to exploit lax customs controls in Peru as long as there is cash to be made in the trade of illegally harvested fins.