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    Rumors Abound Over Costa Rica’s Proposed Sailfish Law

    Rumors and misinformation have the sport-fishing sector in Costa Rica divided over a proposed bill to ban the sale of sailfish in the country. The bill would also make sailfish a national symbol

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    Costa Rica is extremely pro-nature and has several national symbols with total no-touch protection status. But not all. Coffee, and Morpho butterflies are examples of national symbols that are traded on international markets. The peaks of Chirripo, Costa Rica’s highest elevation, is a national symbol and part of the national park system yet visitors are allowed to scale it.

    Another point that has some people worried is INCOPESCA, the government agency that manages the country’s fisheries, often leaves loopholes in regulations. An example is shark finning. When it was a problem, public pressure forced INCOPESCA to act. The agency passed a regulation that required sharks landed to have the fins attached. Commercial harvesters subsequently started cutting the fins off large sharks and sewing them on to the bodies of smaller ones to maximize storage on the boat. When exposed the judge ruled the regulation specified attached and didn’t specify how. Eventually the regulation was amended to say “attached naturally.”

    Differentiated fishing

    Unlike the United States where both recreational and charter fishing both are considered sport fishing, INCOPESCA changed categories a few years ago to Tourist Fishing as a commercial endeavor and Recreational Fishing for relaxation. Some think the word commercial in the proposed law would also exclude charter boats from fishing for sailfish or environmentalists would seek full, no catch-and-release protection for sailfish. There are now five major marinas in the country with a sixth being constructed. Sailfish are the most sought-after species by tourists who spend $500 million annually fishing in Costa Rica. Efforts to ban sport fishing has already been tested in the country and failed.

    Congressman Eli Feinzaig submitted the sailfish bill based on research by Dra. Marina Marrari, the executive director of FECOP, a Costa Rican Sport Fishing Federation. She analyzed over 10,000 sport fishing trips in Costa Rica as well as more than a decade of commercial landings of billfish. While catch and release rates for sport fishermen have decreased as much as 70 percent since 2010, commercial landings have reported an increase of dead sailfish brought to port by as much as 126 percent for the same time period. Considering almost half of the body weight is discarded in the ocean and only “trunks” are brought to port, it is estimated somewhere between 16,000 and 19,000 Pacific sailfish are killed annually in Costa Rica by the longline fleet, plus many more from the artisanal fleet that go unreported. Her work on the subject has been PEER reviewed and published in the prestigious science journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

    The bill’s sponsor, Congressman Eli Feinzaig, issued a statement that hopefully ends the confusion and unites the sector on this issue:

    “I’d like to refute certain rumors and clarify certain fears concerning the bill I have introduced declaring the sailfish as a national symbol. In the first place, it has been mistakenly said that if it were declared a national symbol, it would be untouchable because it would receive absolute protection and this would stymie sports, tourist, and commercial fishing. This is completely false. The national symbol category selected is that of national symbol for economic development. It is the same category granted to coffee when it was declared a national symbol. And it is also wrong to think that, when declared a national symbol, there is absolute protection. Chirripó National Park, the Crestones area, which is the area where people enjoy climbing, was declared a national symbol precisely to promote tourist activities.

    “The other issue is that there is fear that, when saying that sailfish fishing is banned to commercial fishing, it may be interpreted that commercial fishing includes tourist and sports fishing. This is not so because it has been defined in many statutes, particularly in Fishing and Aquaculture. In any case, I’ll be filing a motion to amend the wording so that it is absolutely clear that catch-and-release fishing will be allowed within the set of protections that the sailfish population may receive,” Feinzaig concluded.

    FECOP also provided the documenting science supporting the law that moved the tuna purse seiner fleet initially 45 miles from the coast. That boundary was more recently amended to 80 miles. Tuna, marlin, and dorado have recovered quite well with the new restrictions. But because sailfish are still allowed to be sold on the national market, stocks are suffering. The current market status also creates unregulated, underreported and illegal fishing. The commercial sector claims sailfish comprise only four percent of allowable annual catch. Those landings are minimal when compared to saving a $500 million tourism industry. The only way to recover Costa Rica’s once-robust sailfish population is to ban the sale of sailfish completely.  

    Resonance Costa Rica
    At Resonance, we aspire to live in harmony with the natural world as a reflection of our gratitude for life. Visit and subscribe at Resonance Costa Rica Youtube Channel https://youtube.com/@resonanceCR
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