Trawling in Costa Rica has been a subject of constant debate, in The Costa Rica News (TCRN); we have been monitoring the issue not only of the debates but also of the demands of various fishermen movements and the position of the authorities about it.

 In recent days, the Agriculture Committee of the Legislative Assembly issued Law File No. 21478, “Law for the Sustainable Use of Shrimp Fisheries in Costa Rica”, provided to enter the parliamentary plenary to be voted on in its first debate, through the “fast track” legislative procedure.

According to experts, “the new debate is due to the presence of serious issues of unconstitutionality, being anti-scientific, and seeking to legalize at any cost the destructive trawling industry.

For the Ecological Federation (FECON), chaired by Henry Picado, the bill, “is a project where citizen participation has been discarded, even the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) representative, Carlos Fuente Villa, asked the deputies about the sustainability of trawling re-activation and the lack of participation by artisanal fishermen, since the proposed law was drafted to the liking of the industrial fishing sectors and where the opinion of 14,000 people who depend on artisanal fishing has not been heard, such as the Chamber of Fishermen of Guanacaste”.

Before the decision of the Contentious Administrative Court No. 277-2018-I and the Constitutional Chamber in its Judgment No. 2013-010540, the Constitutional Chamber of Costa Rica, in its 2013 resolution No. 2013010540, recognized the environmental damage caused by trawling and established that the Costa Rican Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Incopesca) “may not grant any new permit, authorization or license, renew the expired ones or reactivate the inactive ones, for shrimp fishing with trawls ”.

Regarding this issue, the Doctor of Marine Sciences Helven Naranjo-Madrigal says that, “the time, human resources and money of all Costa Ricans have been wasted due to disobedience to the decision of the Fourth Chamber (Judgment No. 2013-010540), for the negligence and incompetence prevailing in the structure of INCOPESCA and the pressures of the government”.

In the expert’s opinion, it was obviated to initiate concrete actions to develop alternative means of subsistence in the face of the imminent loss of jobs that would represent the prohibition on the semi-industrial trawling fleet. “Wasted economic resources would have been invested in aquaculture projects and in a scientific campaign to restore habitats degraded by trawling and shrimp species”, says Dr. Naranjo-Madrigal.

Both the Contentious Administrative Court in its resolution No. 277-2018-I and the Constitutional Chamber in its Judgment No. 2013-010540 provides that in order to reactivate shrimp trawling in Costa Rica, technical-environmental studies are required that determine the viability of sustainable shrimp fishing.

 

The Center for Research in Marine Sciences and Limnology (CIMAR) of the University of Costa Rica, has argued that the technical basis of the bill is insufficient and does not provide adequate information to make a decision such as to allow the shrimp trawl industry again. Through CIMAR studies, it has been proven that even fishnets with exclusion devices still carry 77% of Accompaniment Fauna (FACA), “INCOPESCA and the Commission of Farmers want to contradict these scientific facts”, says Henry Picado (FECON).

The study on which the bill is based, File No. 21478, entitled “Percent of Exclusion of Shrimp Accompaniment Fauna (FACA)”, conducted at the request of INCOPESCA focuses on the analysis of the selectivity of the network trawling out of the provisions dictated by the Constitutional Chamber and the Contentious Administrative Court on the environmental viability of trawling.

In addition, the Independent Researcher, Helven Naranjo-Madrigal, highlighted at the time that marine biophysical systems are under the constant influence of environmental conditions and anthropogenic factors (human impact on the environment, or simply environmental impact, known as a set of effects produced by human activities in the Earth’s environment), such factors include climatic variability, physical processes that control circulation, properties of the aquatic environment and biological processes related to population dynamics, trophic networks, and ecosystem processes. Unsustainable fishing practices can decrease the resilience of marine biophysical systems when facing global changes such as climate, with dire consequences on the ecosystem.

It is the knowledge of experts and perhaps not so much of the general population, that trawling is a fishing activity used worldwide both by the industrial fleets. The networks operate in contact with the seafloor and bring with them various organisms that live on it. One of the most serious problems of this mechanism is the physical and biological damage that it causes on the seabed and the sea life communities associated with these habitats.

Is there enough technical-scientific evidence in Costa Rica?

In recent years, only two studies related to trawling in Costa Rica have been carried out: The first was within the framework of the project for the sustainable management of bycatches in sea bottom trawling in Latin America and the Caribbean, financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). And executed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and, in Costa Rica, by Incopesca.

This study mentioned above, was aimed at establishing differences in the baseline of the taxonomic diversity of the FACA captured with and without the use of the Fish Exclusion Device (DEP), in nets, for the capture of Fidel shrimp (Solenocera agassizii) and Pinky shrimp (Farfantepeaneus brevirostris), in fishing grounds in the North and Central Pacific of Costa Rica. The study indicated an exclusion of the FACA with the DEP around 30% for Fidel shrimp and 23% for Pinky shrimp, in general, the percentages of the FACA remain very high, with an average of 77%.

The second and most recent study by INCOPESCA year 2018, evaluated the decrease of FACA in trawling of Pinky and Fidel shrimp, by using different sizes of mesh attachments: DEP, DET, and Double Relinga and other improvements. Four types of fishnets were analyzed with different technical modifications in relation to traditional or control nets. The surprising result was that the use of an experimental variant of the nets generated a 65% decrease in FACA in both shrimp species when compared to the control network.

Regarding the two studies, experts point out that the positive results are still limited, being an investigation in a very restricted area from a geographical perspective”, all sampling was done at the entrance to the Gulf of Nicoya”. To implement responsible and sustainable shrimp fishing, it is essential to have more information. For example, it is essential to have a reliable estimate of the available biomass of these shrimp in Costa Rican waters. The two studies mentioned were not designed to explore this aspect.

Fecon concluded that actions such as “semi-commercial” shrimp fishing licenses, declared unconstitutional in 2018, confirm that INCOPESCA’s interest is not focused on solving the problem in a comprehensive manner. “Rather, it seems that the policy of this institution is to do the minimum, promoting studies on cosmetic issues and with great flaws that make it anti-scientific”.

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