The President of the Republic, Carlos Alvarado, totally vetoed the bill that would revive trawling in Costa Rica, after pressure from scientific institutes, municipalities and artisanal fishermen.
The president pointed out that the analyzes carried out indicate that there are not enough scientific elements and technical studies to guarantee the sustainability of the fishing technique proposed in the text.
“For this reason, in exercise of my constitutional powers, and because of my duty to promote the common good and ensure the balance between productive activity and sustainability, and also, in keeping with my word, today (Friday) I have totally vetoed the Legislative decree number 9909, for reasons of convenience and opportunity,” explained Alvarado in his message.
The President added that “with the available elements, contributed by very different productive and political academic sectors, the criterion on a negative environmental and socioeconomic impact prevails with the reestablishment of this fishing technique, in sectors such as artisanal fishing, in biodiversity and also in the tourist activity on which so many jobs depend”.
Alvarado assured that he is aware of the principle that motivated the promoters of the initiative, but that this is not the appropriate measure to help coastal areas historically hit by lack of employment and poverty.
“To the coastal communities and the people of the affected shrimp sector, I reaffirm our commitment to work hard to get out of this crisis. We will work tirelessly by their side and with a sense of urgency to generate jobs and opportunities that lead to a better quality of life, under the protection of science and technology, as well as with empathy and commitment to the search for the common good,” he said. The rejection of trawling was one of Alvarado’s watchwords during the presidential campaign. In a tweet from 2017, when he was Presidential candidate, stated that “I am and will be against trawling.”
The Constitutional Judicial Chamber prohibited the granting of new trawling licenses in 2013, after a study by the National University determined that shrimp stocks were over exploited. The deputies, however, proposed a bill in 2019 to revive the activity. They used as a basis a study by the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca), which has several deficiencies, according to scientists.
Following the decision of the Presidential House to return the bill to the Legislative Assembly, the deputies may choose to take the Executive’s recommendations or to re-approve the bill. To pass it again, the deputies will need “two-thirds of the votes of the total” of members, according to Article 27 of the Constitution. That is, 38 votes are necessary.
A week ago, the project passed in second debate with 28 votes in favor, 18 against and 11 absent. This vote divided the National Liberation Party (PLN), the largest fraction of the Legislative Assembly, and even led to complaints among deputies in the plenary. For their part, the fraction of the Christian Social Unity Party (PUSC), National Restoration and the block of independent deputies were the main forces in favor of trawling.
A united front against trawling
More than 117 organizations signed a letter calling for the veto of this bill, including tourist chambers, artisanal fishermen associations and the 11 municipalities of the province of Guanacaste.
In addition to them, both the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the National University (UNA) joined in requesting a veto to the project, due to the lack of scientific evidence of its sustainability.
The Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism (Caturgua), for its part, pointed out that the project would be detrimental to the sector. “They did not care about Costa Rica, nor tourism, nor the sustainability of the country,” said the director, César Gallardo.
For their part, artisanal fishermen —both from the Guanacaste province and from Puntarenas— demonstrated against the project. Some even denounced threats and attacks against them. “Trawling was the one that impoverished this province (Puntarenas). They caused almost a desert in that sea,” said William Carrión, a small-scale fisherman from Puntarenas.
During the week, at least 21 municipalities joined the Guanacaste cantons in requesting a veto on the bill, according to a tally by the environmental organization Bloque Verde.
Lack of evidence
The deputies who voted in favor of the project justified their support in an Incopesca study presented in 2019. However, it had several deficiencies, according to biologists from both universities. In the first place, this study was done for a very short period of time: three months (October to December 2018). In addition, samples were taken only in the Gulf of Nicoya, without analyzing how it affects other sectors of the Pacific coast.
But even the data that is in the study was deficient, a recent scientific review showed. Incopesca overestimated the benefits of the new trawls by 30%. In the event that the deputies approve the bill again, it would order the entity to carry out more studies for a year, to fill the gaps left by the previous investigation. But this period of time is too short to carry out the necessary studies, according to the researcher from the University of Costa Rica, Ingo Wehrtmann.
The impact of this fishing on shrimp populations is not yet known
“What is scientifically accepted would be a two-year study to also have different seasons: rainy and dry season. The ideal would be two-year sampling and another half year for data analysis,” said the researcher.
He was also critical of the appointment of Incopesca as the entity in charge of these studies. “It is not healthy if Incopesca or the fishing sector do (the studies). We have the installed capacity of the National University and the University of Costa Rica to carry out a study of this type”, he added.