Undercover investigations have revealed brutal butchering of dolphins for shark bait off Peru’s Pacific coast. Such has been the ire of conservationists, they have compelled Lima to pledge a crackdown against the carnage.
In a joint press release on Monday, nonprofits BlueVoice of Florida and Mundo Azul of Peru shared damning reports on the practice, and a separate Ecostorm expedition documented the “unbelievable cruelty.” In addition, Hardy Jones, executive director of Blue Voice, told the PanAmerican Post on Wednesday that over thirty groups from eleven countries — including the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, Italy, and Mexico — have now signed a statement condemning this practice.
Stefan Austermuhle, president of Mundo Azul, said of his expedition, “what we saw was unimaginably horrific.” After being harpooned and hauled on deck, fishermen beat “the pitiful dolphin” with a club. “All I could do was continue recording the event in the hope that making the world aware of this tragedy [would] somehow bring an end to it.”
Austermuhle said fishermen capture approximately 15,000 dolphins for bait and food yearly in Peruvian waters. Mundo Azul based their calculations on a fleet of 545 local artisan vessels that set to sea at least six times per year and kill up to six dolphins each excursion.
Jones emphasized that just minutes after the network posting, pledges arrived to back a demand that Peru enforce laws already on the books that make killing dolphins illegal. BlueVoice fully funded the Mundo Azul expedition and gave a limited contribution to UK-based Ecostorm’s earlier endeavor.
Since March of 1996, hunting dolphins has been completely banned in Peru, in accordance with international agreements and Peruvian Law No. 26585. It constitutes an environmental crime that must be prosecuted and punished, said the South American nation’s Fisheries Deputy Minister, Paul Phumpiu. Peru’s Production Ministry affirmed that it is state policy to protect the environment and condemned this illegal slaughter of dolphins committed by individuals who “tarnish the work of men of the sea.”
Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, in July of 1996, decreed that this law also prohibited their consumption through either fresh or processed meat and the landing of dead animals or their parts with the intention of consumption. It also outlawed the tormenting, injury, or intentional mutilation of these dolphins. Furthermore, protected species stranded alive with a chance for survival are to be returned to the ocean, as well as those caught alive as by-catch in nets.
Dolphin fishing was already prohibited the year before, yet the offense was punishable only with a fine. Violations currently carry jail sentences of one to three years with the loss of permits or licenses for 180 days.
Phumpiu noted that Peru’s Fisheries Institute (IMARPE) has been commissioned for a study to assess the extent of the dolphin slaughter and potential damages to the ecosystem. Peru has also designed a National Plan of Action aimed at regulating and penalizing shark-related violations that will take effect in the middle of 2014.
“Action is needed now,” said Austermuhle of Mundo Azul. “Viable and immediate measures [should] be taken in order to stop the massive ecological crime committed by Peruvian fishermen illegally killing dolphins for shark bait and human consumption. It is necessary to do more than simply conduct studies.”
Our hope is that government actions go beyond a survey, Jones of BlueVoice added in a telephone interview.
“Mr. Austermuhle has been in constant contact with Deputy Minister Phumpiu and the ministries of environment and production — where the meetings show promise . . . [However,] if the government in Lima doesn’t act immediately and forcefully, Peru may eclipse Japan as the world’s villain when it comes to the slaughter of dolphins.”
One of the measures pending IMARPE’s recommendations is a temporary veto on shark fishing to discourage the use of dolphins as bait. Authorities are contemplating all kinds of actions, even “banning the fishing of certain species,” Phumpiu insisted. The deputy minister also reminded people that regional governments hold jurisdiction over fishermen. Phumpiu said these regional bodies would ask local officials to investigate and identify offenders with the help of the national police, port authorities, and the Environmental Ministry.
Jim Wiggins, from the Ecostorm investigative team, wrote that “an upsurge in shark meat consumption over the last decade within Peru, the high prices paid for shark fins from the Far East, combined with the ever-rising cost of fish bait” were contributing factors in the widespread hunting of dolphins, known as chenchos or “sea pigs” by Peruvian fishermen.
Chencho meat is effective bait for the blue shark, a fisherman told Wiggins. “I understand that to hunt the dolphin is illegal. But for me, it’s a necessity . . . bait for shark is very expensive.”
Sharks are no less the victims in this killing chain, but shark fishing is legal in Peru, albeit highly regulated. Fishermen then sell the meat on the national market, while fins — a delicacy in Asian markets with prices near US$800 a pound — are separated in port by an intermediate fish dealer for export.
Wiggins described his shock as fishermen — upon catching a blue shark — sliced off the snout just below the shark’s eyes. Mako sharks hold a different fate, their spines are severed with a cut behind the head.
One blue shark was pregnant and “as the belly was opened up . . . dozens of perfectly formed baby sharks slid out of the mother’s entrails,” wrote Wiggins. His pleas to the crew to put the baby sharks back in the sea ended in a “novelty as the babies were rounded up and tossed over the side.”
“Ultimately there can be no solution to the dolphin killing without controlling the shark fishery. As long as they fish sharks on the high sea they will kill dolphins,” said Austermuhle.
EspañolThis week the El Vocero newspaper reported murder number 16 for 2013 on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Then a possible 17th occurred at the Fajardo Courthouse, when gunmen from a moving vehicle opened fire and killed a woman entering the courthouse parking lot. Published reports indicate the shooting was drug related and the woman was a resident of Vieques. In the grand scheme of things, 16 murders in 10 months may not seem like such a big deal. However, when you consider the population of the Vieques — less than 10,000 — it starts coming into perspective. After reading the Vocero report, I did a little research and found that the murder rate on Vieques is actually the highest reported murder rate in the world by about 100 percent (when compared to nations). Normally when calculating a murder rate you take the total population and divide it by 100,000. Let’s say you have a population of one million, and you have 100 murders in a year or given time frame. To calculate your murder rate you divide the population by 100,000 (1,000,000/100,000), which gives you 10. You then use that number (10) to divide your murders (100 murders/10), and you get a murder rate of 10. In the case of Vieques, the sample is too small to calculate down, so you have to extrapolate the number by multiplying up. Statisticians will tell you that you have a less reliable number, given the smaller sample size. True, a larger community would enable a better comparison, but the rate remains the best data point we have to compare Vieques's murder rate to elsewhere. So in the case of Vieques, it would be 10,000 times the number needed to reach 100,000. You would then need to use that same factor to increase your murder numbers to match the larger number: 16 x 10 = 160. So the extrapolated murder rate for the island of Vieques Puerto Rico is 160 per 100,000. Let that sink in a bit, and then look at these statistics from 2011: the top 20 countries in terms of murders. The 20 Most Homicidal Countries in the World [table id=6 /] It’s bad enough that Puerto Rico came in at number 19, with a murder rate over 26 per 100,000 residents. The highest official number, however, went to Honduras, with a murder rate of just over 82 per 100,000. When you consider the global murder numbers the Vieques murder rate takes on a whole new and frightful dimension: 160/100 thousand versus 82/100 thousand. The cause? The war on drugs. Plain and simple. When the US Navy closed down Roosevelt Roads and its range on Vieques, the infrastructure that was used for defense training, which had a dual purpose of anti-drug operations, left. From that moment on, criminal drug organizations which had always kept an eye out for Federal assets had a much freer rein in the land, air, and sea on the eastern end of Puerto Rico. With those criminal organizations, comes enforcement. The mafia soldiers keep order by blood. Defy the local boss, try to compete, threaten to tell or even associate with someone who might and you get an instant death penalty. No trial, no jury, no appeal; execution plain and simple. While I did serve as the public affairs officer for Roosevelt Roads and would not mind seeing the base itself return, that alone will not solve the problems on Vieques. Only legalizing, regulating, and taxing drugs will end the associated violence and corruption — and this can only occur under independence. There is yet another aspect of the Vieques situation that continues to boggle the mind. After the accidental death of one security guard after 60 years of live ammunition training on the eastern end of the island, thousands of people, politicians, actors, artists, and even reporters violated federal law to occupy the bombing range in order to get it to close down. After years of trying, they succeeded. The range and the base with its 5,000 jobs closed. Yet the murders of 16 people in 10 months have received almost no media attention. No protests, no new laws, no new regulations, no attempts to occupy the local housing project or the homes of the drug lords. How is it possible that one accidental death in 60 years holds more political clout than the murders of 16? That is something to really think about.