Costa Rican Tuna should be for Costa Rican Fishermen

    A reflection in defense of our marine resources

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    Costa Rica has a wealth of tuna in its seas like few other countries in the world. The problem is that most of this wealth is stolen from us by foreign ships using industrial fishing methods that are extremely harmful to the marine ecosystem. They rob us of economic resources at the same time that they generate environmental damage.

    And we say they steal those resources from us because at the end of the day they pay us a pittance for fishing licenses that allow them to extract thousands of tons under practically no environmental regulations.

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    According to INCOPESCA data, foreign vessels extract more than 25,000 tons of tuna per year. Between 2008 and 2011 they paid us the only US $ 37 per ton of tuna caught in our sea. On the other hand, a ton of fresh tuna sells for more than the US $ 6000 in the international market.

    Additionally, the purse-seine fishing method used by these boats kills thousands of dolphins, sharks, and turtles each year. It is an unsustainable fishing practice carried out by foreign vessels with foreign crews in exchange for little socio-economic gains for our country.

    A story that seems alien to our national identity

    Meanwhile, the coastal communities of Costa Rica are in the worst socio-economic situation they have ever faced. In recent months, they have watched their jobs disappear and businesses go bankrupt. From coast to coast, the cry of despair sounds louder and louder.

    And it is precisely amid this impotence that many of us return to view the Sea as a fertile base to create a sustainable blue economy that generates greater opportunities for all in the coastal communities of Costa Rica.

    The year 2014 marks an important milestone for this story

    Before 2014, tuna was not as abundant as it is today on the coastline of our country. This, because foreign tuna vessels were allowed to fish freely through our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

    With scientific and anecdotal basis, Costa Rican fishermen claimed that the environmental impact of the industrial tuna fleet was deteriorating fishing in the national territory. Therefore, under the “Decree for the Use of tuna and related species in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Costa Rican Pacific Ocean,” a total of 200,000 square kilometers of tuna activity was protected by prohibiting fishing with purse-seines.

    The protection areas that were created include the first 40 miles from the coast, the waters around Isla del Coco, and other dolphin breeding areas. According to this decree, only the national fleet can fish in these areas using practices that exclude purse-seines.

    When the decree came into force, tuna fishing in Costa Rican coastal waters increased significantly. Less than an hour by boat from the coast, for more than 300 days of the year, world-class tuna can be caught in Costa Rica.

    This not only allowed tourist fishing operators to start offering tuna fishing as just another tour, but it also created a new value chain for Costa Rican commercial fishermen. Hence the saying “Costa Rican Tuna for Costa Rican Fishermen” was born. Furthermore, several studies show that this decree has generated a significant decrease in by-catch of species such as marlin and an increase in dolphin sightings. As easy as watching some of the recent documentaries that show us the pods of thousands of dolphins swimming freely in the Pacific of Costa Rica.

    Regaining control of our seas

    For all this, we must regain control of our Sea. We must create socio-economic opportunities for our communities, especially during the crisis that overwhelms us. That is why we must extend the protected strip and take the industrial tuna fleet 60 miles from our coast (project No. 21,316 in the Legislative Assembly or by executive decree).

    At the same time, promote sustainable use of tuna by the Costa Rican fleet. The national fleet is capable of using sustainable methods to catch fresh tuna that is commercialized in international markets; thus creating value-added chains in our fishery products.

    The Costa Rican longline sector has already been implementing it successfully. The sportfishing fleet can also take advantage of more abundance of its species of interest such as billfish, dorado, and tuna.

    In this way, getting ready to reopen to tourism as one of the best sportfishing destinations in the world. It is worth mentioning that sportfishing contributes approximately US $ 500 million annually to the Costa Rican economy according to a study carried out by the Research Institute of Economic Sciences of the UCR in 2018.

    In conclusion

    The numbers don’t lie. It is estimated that currently, the national fleet catches only 5% of the tuna that is harvested in national waters, while the rest is used by the foreign industrial fleet. What if we flip those numbers? What if we promote the sustainable use of our fishing resources as a measure of economic reactivation?

    Let us expand the areas that exclude foreign tuna vessels that do us so much damage and promote a Costa Rican fishing fleet capable of taking advantage of our marine resources sustainably and responsibly; thus generating greater opportunities for our coastal communities.

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