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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ecuador's president orders US environmental activist expelled for role in shark fin seizure

IHT, 4 Aug, 2007

QUITO, Ecuador: President Rafael Correa ordered a U.S. environmental activist deported from Ecuador for participating in a police seizure of two tons of shark fins that were apparently illegally fished.

Sean O'Hearn, a representative of the environmental group Sea Shepherd, was detained before dawn Saturday in the capital of Quito.

"I am having (him) expelled from the country because I am not going to allow any foreigner to come here to tell us what to do," Correa said on his morning radio show.

"I have an Ecuadorean wife and Ecuadorean daughter," O'Hearn told The Associated Press at the immigration center where he was being held. "This is my country, and for me to treated this way, from night to day to be deported ... without being able to defend myself, I am indignant and my wife feels indignation as an Ecuadorean."

"He has committed no crime," said Mariana Almeida, president of the environmental group Fundacion Selva Vida. "He has had the courage to defend sharks."

A report by immigration authorities said O'Hearn violated the country's national sovereignty by "participating in searches for Ecuadorean citizens," resulting in the revocation of his visa.

On Tuesday, police seized hundreds of shark fins apparently caught illegally in the days before a widely criticized presidential decree allowing the sale of fins if the sharks — some of them threatened species — are caught accidentally.

O'Hearn said he participated in the raid as a representative of Sea Shepherd, which he said signed an agreement with police to enforce environmental controls.

O'Hearn, 33, has lived in Ecuador since 2006. The Sea Shepherd Foundation donated a boat to the government to conduct sea patrols to protect against illegal fishing of endangered species.

His lawyer, Gina Solis, said the government is violating procedures by speeding up his deportation.

"The only thing he did was help police combat crime, because two tons (of fins) are not accidental fishing," she said.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Aaron Sherinian said embassy officials were in contact with Ecuadorean authorities about O'Hearn's case.

Fifteen people were detained in Tuesday's raid in the Pacific port of Manta, according to police. But a prosecutor later ordered them released and the fins returned to the fishermen.

Environmentalists say Correa's decree, which took effect Tuesday, will encourage illegal fishing of sharks. Some critics say the president is trying to win the support of fishermen for next month's election of a constitutional assembly.

In his radio program Correa stressed that deliberate shark fishing will still be illegal, although he has not explained how authorities will determine whether sharks are caught accidentally or on purpose.

Noting that each fin can fetch about US$80 to US$100 (€60 to €75) in Asia, where they are considered a delicacy, he defended the measure as a way to help fishermen who "want to bring bread to their children."

"They're telling us to be sensitive with sharks and insensitive with people," Correa said.

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