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Brazilian Environmentalists Sue Over Shark Finning Contraband; 'An Unacceptable Crime'

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brasil -- The Environmental Justice Institute, a Brazilian nonprofit NGO based in Porto Alegre, has launched its fourth lawsuit against the illegal shark finning industry, this time at the Federal Court in Belém, capital of the Amazonian State of Pará.

This case involves the confiscation of 3.5 tons of shark fins, or the illegal slaughter of approximately 40,000 sharks. The region is considered to be one of the richest in marine biodiversity along the Brazilian coast. The plaintiffs are requesting a provisional payment of damages of US$ 120,000,000.

"Usually, when people talk of the Amazon, they only think about the forests. Belém do Pará however is one of the main hotspots of finning in Latin America. We know also that the killing of dolphins for shark bait is commonplace in the region, and this too is an unacceptable crime", said Crstiano Pacheco, Director of IJA.

This fourth lawsuit against the black market for shark fins in Brazil follows two others initiated in a Federal Court of Rio Grande, in the extreme South of the country, and another one also in Belém, which requested payment of damages of almost 900 million dollars by the fishing industry SIGEL do Brasil, which has an office in Brazil but is based in Panama.

"The more we develop the lawsuit option, the more we learn. We took this problem to Mr. Fabio Pitaluga, head of the Marine Division at the Brazilian Foreign Affairs Ministry, because we think it is of extreme concern to the international image of Brazil. We are also right now gathering information about the shark chain of trade. We verified that the large supermarket chains, including multinationals, are not informing about the origin of frozen shark meat sold in their outlets, and also do not inform which is species are traded or whether they are included in the Ministry of the Environment´s Endangered Species list. These omissions are against the National Consumer Protection Law, since the packaging of any product must include clear information for the consumer about the origin and quality of the product so consumers are not mistaken. We sent letters to all such companies requesting information about their shark providers and legal origins, and only one company answered, saying that their shark meat comes entirely from Spain", added Pacheco.

IJA´s lawsuit was applauded by the coordinator of the Divers for Sharks international campaign, which organized a week of protests and activities to help raise awareness in Brazil about the plight of sharks.

"The omission of the federal government in relation to shark finning and in refusing to control abusive industrial fishing is a crime against the nation which can only be corrected through legal action and mobilizing public opinion. It is about time we prevent the continuation of this escalating abuse from the industrial fishing mafia", said José Truda Palazzo, Jr., one of the coordinator for Divers for Sharks.

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