sharks seized from the Fer Mary I in Galapagos

@ Sea Shepherd Galapagos

Last week the Galapagos National Park Directorate announced that a landmark decision has been reached in a illegal fishing and shark finning case from 2011.

The Ninth Circuit Court in the Province of Guayas ruled that the captain and all nine crew members of the industrial fishing vessel Fer Mary I are guilty of fishing for a protected species within the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). According to the park’s statement, this “judgement in favor of the rights of nature” is the first time that all defendants in an illegal fishing case within the GMR were found guilty and will face civil and criminal penalties. The park’s statement also claims that the ruling will set an important precedent for dealing with similar cases in the future in Latin America and possibly worldwide.

The Fer Mary I was captured on July 19, 2011 within the GMR  with at least 357 illegally harvested sharks on board. The case has continued to generate headlines ever since, in part because it has been emblematic of the difficulty of successfully prosecuting environmental crimes in the Galapagos Islands. In December 2012, for example, a judge in the Galapagos was suspended after he annulled all judicial proceedings in the case and claimed that he lacked judicial competence to rule in an environmental penal case. The controversial ruling came after five months of intense litigation in his court. As a result, the case was sent to the court on the mainland and proceedings had to start anew.

Covering 51,000 square miles, the GMR is vast and exceedingly difficult to patrol. The non-profit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, best known for tangling with illegal whaling ships on the high seas, has made improving judicial response to environmental crimes in the Galapagos one of its top priorities since 2010 and has been advocating for the creation of the world’s first ever  judiciary specializing in nature’s rights. Sea Shepherd estimates that 100 million sharks are killed globally each year in order to provide shark fins for shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy across much of Asia.