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Foreign fishing fleets catch 90 percent of Costa Rica’s Pacific Tuna

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Tuna Fishing Costa Rica

While 15,000 Costa Rican fishermen and their families are suffering from a severe economic crisis, in the last 10 years international tuna fishing boats have taken more than 90 percent of the tuna extracted per year from the Costa Rican Pacific, using high-impact fishing methods.

A recent study by Costa Rican Fishery Federation (FECOP) and the Costa Rican National Fishing Sector, based on data from the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (ITTC) and facilitated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Ranching, shows that between 2002 and 2011, international tuna fishing fleets have captured and sold more than 253 thousand metric tons of tuna.

Priscilla Cubero Pardo, FECOP´s scientific director, explained that the study analyzed ten years of data based on information from fishing reports submitted by tuna vessels.

According to the study, a total of 146 tuna boats have fished in the Costa Rican Pacific waters in the last ten years. The majority of these boats were from Panama and Venezuela, and of the 1,512 fishing trips recorded in ten years, 51 percent had Ecuador as their first disembarking port. Only 15 percent of the fishing trips had Costa Rica as their first disembarking port.

The National Fishing Sector and FECOP are opening the public debates in Costa Rica about the tuna fishing situation in the country.

“Our goal is to create a favorable climate to promote fishing regulations in Costa Rica. Non-selective fishing methods, like purse-seine nets, have reduced fishing production by 50 percent in the last decade and threatened decens of species of fish,” explained Enrique Ramírez, the FECOP Executive Director.

“We consider the participation of all stakeholders crucial for defining a fisheries management plan, in order to ensure a reliable outcome. The aim of working with the national artisanal, long line and sport-fishing sectors is to limit purse-seine fishing within Costa Rica’s EEZ and allow Costa Rican commercial fishers to fish for tuna without competition from the purse-seine vessels while improving the socioeconomic conditions of national fishers who would prefer to catch tuna instead of species of tourist and sport fishing interest”, added Ramírez.

Currently, Costa Rican fishermen, including artisanal fishermen, longliners and sportfishermen, only have exclusive access to the fishing resources within the first 12 miles of coastal territory.

Social and Economic Impact

Along the Costa Rican coasts approximately 100,000 people’s livelihood depends either directly or indirectly on the fishing industry. Right now these communities are in crisis due to the huge reduction in fishing resources. The capture of tuna by international fishing fleets affects key resources for the national fishing sector.

“In the Costa Rican Pacific we have identified competition for resources between different fishing industries, from artisanal, sport, and semi-industrial fishermen to the international seine fleets. We want to encourage the country to define policies in favor of responsible fishing practices to ensure the existence of resources for the Costa Rican fishermen,” Ramírez said.

Costa Rican fishing operations are the ones that have been hurt in this fight for marine resources in the Pacific. It takes four months for a 1,000 mile-trip for a typical Costa Rican fishing boat, and these small ships are unable to compete with international fishing fleets equipped with better technology.

“Until now no one has been able to make a strategic decision about tuna resource management and the national fishing sector wants to help the country define policies directed at the responsible harvesting of this resource,” said Mauricio González, a fishermen and member of the Costa Rican Fishing Sector Commission.

Environmental Impact

Tuna fishing with seine nets has a very high impact on marine resources. Seine nets are a non-selective form of fishing leading to the unnecessary capture and death of a number of unwanted species. These species include dolphins, marlin sailfish, mahi mahi, sharks and 27 other small species. The likelihood of this bycatch is greatly increased with the use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs).

The data collected indicates that more than 1,000 metric tons of unwanted fish are captured incidentally and then left for dead due to laws prohibiting their capture. The species most affected are billfish, manta rays, mahi mahi and sharks. This level of bycatch has a huge negative impact on the entire national fishing sector limiting their economic contributions to the country.

Tuna fishing boats are also known to throw their nets over pods of dolphins in order to capture nearby tuna, killing dolphins in the process. The boats use floating objects as reference points where many species of fish often congregate. When they cast their nets over these areas every species around the object is captured. Sometimes these floating objects are artificial FADs prohibited in Costa Rican.

“Just to give an example, I want to mention that the majority of tuna caught are pulled from nets cast over large pods of dolphins. This happens 84 percent of the time, the other 11 percent of tuna capture occurs when nets are cast over other species of fish,” Ramírez explained.

Notes for the reader

For a clearer idea about this topic here is an explanation of two basic topics:

FECOP is a non-for profit NGO in association with Fish For the Next Generation, (FFNG), a 501( C ) (3) organization for the promotion of responsible fisheries

Ocean Territory: Refers to the first 12 nautical miles measured from the coastline.

Exclusive Economic Zone: Refers to the entire Costa Rican marine territory, which covers 209,978 square miles in the Pacific and 9,348 square miles in the Caribbean.

For more Information

Kelly Perry. FECOP Press OFFICER
(506) 8742-2994 E-mail: kperry@fecop.org

Sandra Ramírez. FECOP Communications Director
(506) 8392-2359 E-mail: sramirez@fecop.org

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