Maputo capital city awoke like any normal Wednesday. Chapa’s scurried across town; cars lined up as the red lights drew the traffic to a temporary stop and people in suits meandered to their offices. Yet something else was stirring that day, something bigger than any of us could have imagined. This wasn’t going to be another ordinary day, this day was going to create history in Maputo and bring home the reality of what is happening on a daily basis within this bustling city.
An assembled team of Fisheries inspectors, Maritime and Civil Police left Maputo port, weaving their way through the traffic towards their destination, a house suspected of running a large-scale illegal smuggling operation. The perimeter fencing was covered with barbwire, whilst the chained dog at the entrance strained at its leash as it angrily barked upon the arrival of the unexpected visitors.
Two Chinese nationals were inside the building and had no option other than reluctantly open the doors into their dark and run-down house, revealing the shocking secrets that were hidden within its walls. Descending into the squalid basement the team quickly discovered illegal firearms and a small room full of large rice sacks filled to the brim with dried sea cucumbers (magajojo) and shark fins. As they made their way into the back yard, the contrasting sunlight was almost blinding, but what lay before them was even more shocking to their senses.
Hundreds of thousands of drying sea cucumbers covered the entire the area. It was impossible to walk around without stepping on these now motionless creatures, so highly sought after for Chinese medicine and banquets. They are gutted, cleaned, boiled and then left to dry for a few days before they are ready to be sold or exported. Sea Cucumbers play a vital role in the marine eco-system, and with this dark sea of withering creatures spread out before the inspectors, the horrific scale of exploitation of their Oceans was becoming clear.
Fresh shark fins were laid out in the sun, along with hundreds of fish gas bladders, known as fish maw. These internal organs are often served in soups and are considered a food delicacy in some Asian cultures and one of the luxury ingredients in Chinese cuisine. Shark fins are also highly coveted within the Chinese market, their flavorless, nutritionless fibers are removed after hours of preparations, to be mixed with other ingredients to make shark fin soup, usually served on special occasions like banquets and weddings. The practice of shark finning is the primary reason for the global decline of shark species, with some populations already severely depleted by up to 90%.
Returning inside the property, the inspectors requested the Chinese nationals to unlock closed basement doors. Three more rooms were opened, and even through the dim light the true scale of the operation was uncovered. Each room contained sacks upon sacks filled with sea cucumbers, shark fins and fish maw. It took the strength of two men to lift just one sack of sea cucumbers, such were the quantities crammed inside each bag.
The rest of the house was searched, revealing more disturbing secrets. Live terrapins inside a large container, turtle shells and even a large bag full of hundreds of dried sea horses were discovered. As the inspection continued, no fisheries licenses could be shown, and so their laptop, mobile phones were taken as evidence. As Police questioning progressed, the clear up operation began.
In total FIVE truck loads of illegal products were removed from the property. Nearly 60 sacks of sea cucumbers, 15 sacks of shark fins (it is estimated that at least 3 000 plus sharks have been slaughtered to obtain the amount of fins that were discovered) and a similar number of fish maw were confiscated. The day’s operation was a huge success and created history as being the biggest, non-vessel bust in the history of fisheries in Mozambique.
Disturbingly enough, not one week after the Fisheries discovery, we have been reliably informed that the house in question has once again resumed its clandestine operations
Through Eyes on the Horizon film `SHIVER`, (http://vimeo.com/17295966) recently produced by Sangue Bom the exploits of shark fining along the Mocambique coastline were uncovered - the cruel and senseless daily slaughter of sharks for illegal export to Asian countries – it is happening NOW in Mocambique, along our very shores, threatening the status quo of our marine environment and potentially collapsing the extremely lucrative tourism industry which is built upon the adventure and excitement of diving with sharks.
Such senseless slaughter needs to be stopped. Our coastal fishing communities need to be protected, for the sake of their futures and the futures of their children.
Should you come across any activity you perceive to be illegal along our Coastline, please report this through to our web site www.eoth.org and we will endeavor to inform the relevant authorities for appropriate action.
EOTH – Eyes on the Horizon / Olhos no Horizonte firstname.lastname@example.org; tel: 84 754 1320