By Isabella Cota
MANUEL ANTONIO, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rica on Wednesday passed a blanket ban on shark finning, in which the fins are sliced off sharks, often while they are alive, before the fish are thrown back into the ocean to die.
President Laura Chinchilla signed an executive order banning shark finning in the Central American nation's coastal waters, closing loopholes in an existing law passed in 2001.
"Costa Rica may set an example to the world when it comes to environmental protection, but it must be noted that we had a significant lag when it comes to protecting the oceans," Chinchilla told reporters at a signing ceremony in Manuel Antonio National Park on the country's Pacific coast.
The new order amends previous legislation that outlawed shark finning but continued to allow the transportation and importation of fins from other countries.
Penalties under the ban include fines and the cancellation of fishing licenses for those who are caught finning sharks. Catching sharks for food, as a means of subsistence, however, will continue to be allowed.
Chinchilla also announced an investment of up to $15 million in a new radar system that will allow authorities to better identify boats breaking the ban.
Environmental activists have campaigned against shark finning for years. They say it is cruel, and a threat to sea life and the preservation of the oceans.
Shark fins are in high demand in Asian countries including China and Japan, where shark fin soup is considered a delicacy.
(Reporting by Isabella Cota; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Eric Beech)