Ecuadorian authorities seized 250,000 shark fins and made three arrests of suspected traffickers in Manta on Wednesday. They said the alleged traffickers may have been responsible for killing as many 300,000 sharks to harvest fins in one of the worst environmental crimes in Ecuador history.
Jose Serrano, Ecuador Interior Minister, announced the arrests on Twitter, posting a series of grisly photographs of severed shark fins.
“We must put an end to these criminal networks that only focus on their economic interests, which has resulted in the destruction of entire ecosystems,” Serrano said.
Police did not say how many months it was believed the traffickers had been buying dead sharks and detaching the fins. The fins were collected in several operations around the port of Manta earlier in the week.
Shark fins are prized in Asia, especially in China, where they are used in cooking and as medicines. WildAid, an international organization that works to reduce the demand for wildlife products, estimates that nearly 100 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, mostly to be cooked into soups.
The fins are sold for $600 to $800 per kilogram in China, most of them harvested illegally.
WildAid reports that sales of shark fins has dropped 50 to 70 percent in recent years and says it is up to law enforcement in countries like Ecuador to continue the downtrend.
Although the sale of shark fins was banned in Ecuador in 2009, sales are allowed in cases where sharks are are caught accidentally during commercial fishing operations. WildAid says that the loophole in the law has been exploited by traffickers. “We urge the government to ban all sales of shark fins, including those of sharks that are netted unintentionally,” a spokeswoman for the group said.