Could sport fishing be in the next winter Olympics?
Recreational fishing groups from the United States, Mexico and several Latin American countries hope to make sport fishing an Olympic sport in the near future.
According to a press release from FECOP, a Costa Rican non-profit sport-fishing organization, the groups met in Cancun, Mexico, in November for the inaugural assembly of the PanAmerican Sport-Fishing Delegation. The purpose of the group is to promote sport fishing as a competitive sport, with hopes of it being added to the Pan-American Games, and share a unified front on fishing conservation. FECOP represented Costa Rica during the meeting.
The release states the Olympics addition would be reliant on cooperation from the European countries. Golf, table tennis and handball recently were added as Olympic sports. Skateboarding, surfing and climbing will be included in the 2020 Games.
The release cites the Confederation International of Sport Fishing, which says the countries from North, Central, and South America making up the Americas “are not yet sufficiently organized for sport fishing to be considered for the Olympics.” An international governing body for fishing applied for the sport’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, but it was denied. According to BBC.com, fishing was part of the 1900 games in Paris but it was an unofficial sport and there was no winner — and only six countries participated.
There are four Pan-American tournaments — three saltwater — scheduled for 2018. A snook tournament will be in Tabasco, Mexico, and an offshore tournament will happen at Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Guatemala also might host another snook tournament. – Article from www.saltwatersportsman.com
Costa Rica Fishing Conservation: Why is the Costa Rica Tuna Decree so Important?
There is nothing like enjoying a fresh yellowfin tuna sushi, sashimi, or even a big fat juicy fresh tuna steak when your arms are almost too tired to lift the chopsticks. Recreational anglers are catching more tuna than ever all along the Costa Rican Pacific seaboard. Fighting a tuna on rod and reel is like having your line attached to a freight train. The increased availability of tuna has been a saving grace for many a charter captain in the off season for billfish.
People are asking: Why so many tuna?
In 2012 FECOP (Federacion Costarricense de Pesca), a non-governmental group made up of different sport fishing associations around the country began researching the tuna purse industry in Costa Rican waters. Territorial waters are 11 times greater than Costa Rica’s terrestrial area. Costa Rica does not have any national flagged tuna vessels and purse licenses are sold to and operated by foreign flagged vessels in Costa Rican waters. FECOP approached then President of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla explaining a problem existed and she advised them to submit a project supporting their claim.
FECOP then discovered that over the 2008-2011 period, 193 purse vessels operated in Costa Rican waters while INCOPESCA the governing body of fishing in Costa Rica reported only 81 licensed vessels sold for the same period. Apparently 114 or 58% of the vessels were operating illegally. Much of the tuna never made it to port in the country. Costa Rica benefited a mere $37 a ton for tuna stored.
Knowing the government would be slow to react to just a group of sport fishers’ complaints, FECOP held meetings with the longline fleet. After decades of throwing stones at each other the two groups decided to present the project to the government together. The longline fleet expressed if there were a steady supply of tuna available they would have no interest in sailfish which are a major bycatch problem in Costa Rica with non-selective types of fishing gear. President Chinchilla signed the “tuna decree,” as it is known near the end of her term and newly elected President Luis Guillermo Solis delayed the publication of the decree, but it eventually passed in October of 2014. The decree protects over 200,000 square kilometers of territorial water (44%) from purse sein operations, (see map). The most important area to recreational anglers is the first 45 miles from the coastline in which sein operations are now prohibited.
In March of 2017, using data supplied by FECOP’s Director of Science Moises Mug, INCOPESCA reduced tune purse sein licenses sold to foreign fleets from 43 vessels down to 9 for the rest of the year. The government amended the agreement and sold 13 licenses. A new decree is waiting to be signed that would only permit 8 licenses permanently. It is estimated 25 tons of what would have been marlin bycatch in purse sein operations were saved in Costa Rican waters in 2017 alone.
According to agreements in the Tuna Decree there are a few provisions that have yet to be implemented. A management plan for the coastal and special polygons. Polygons A and D on map. An onboard observer program must be created for longline fleets, and a research program including horizontal and vertical migration using archival tags. The management workshops have already begun with sport and commercial fisherman, government agencies and NGO’s all participating.
INCOPESCA, INA the governmental technical institute that trains for many occupations including different types of fishing, and FECOP have all teamed up for a year- long “greenstick” and vertical line study which started with the first voyage in October. Greenstick is a method of fishing tuna with almost zero bycatch that is common in the Atlantic side of the United States but INCOPESCA requires technical support studies done in Costa Rica before they will give licenses for fish them here. With more tuna available and a growing demand for sustainably caught tuna on the International market with a higher value at the dock, hopes are one day a portion of the longline fleet will convert to greenstick fishing. This would decrease the amount of billfish bycatch tremendously.
FECOP was formed in 2008 by a small group of anglers who discovered 480,000 kilos of sailfish were being exported annually into the United States. Much of this was served in seafood restaurants as smoked seafood spread and people had no idea they were eating sailfish. FECOP convinced the government to stop the exportation of sailfish but it can still be sold on the National market as a low-cost supplement to the Costa Rican diet.
The first major conservation project FECOP tackled was the creation of the largest Marine Area of Responsible Fishing in Central America. Sport fishing is allowed and small scale artisanal fishing is permitted in the Golfo Dulce on the Osa Peninsula, but shrimp trawlers and gill nets are no longer allowed. A Golfo Dulce Commission was formed with representatives of all the users of the gulf as well as governmental agencies and NGO’s who meet monthly to manager the area.
FECOP has not existed without controversy. While the whole Costa Rican sport fishing community should have been celebrating the Tuna Decree when it passed, they were distracted by a campaign from The Billfish Foundation labeling FECOP as “quasi-green environmentalists” and a threat to sport fishing in Costa Rica. The controversy started when a FECOP member voiced his opinion at a public forum on regulating more the organized billfish tournaments in Costa Rica. TBF ran with it claiming it was FECOP’s stance to discredit the organization.
A blessing in disguise, the incident prompted FECOP to re-evaluate itself. The staff was reduced and Moises Mug, one of the most respected marine scientists in the country was hired full time. Today their agenda is quite simple. Promoting sport fishing in Costa Rica both recreationally and professionally with a focus on bycatch, research and communication. The staff is supported by a board of directors from both the recreational and professional fishing sector including sportsman and Hall of Fame baseball player Wade Boggs who is an avid fisherman and conservationist.
Continuous maintenance of the Tuna Decree will be needed in 2018 which Dr. Mug will oversee. Henry Marin will head up a socio-economic study concentrating on coastal communities individually, demonstrating the importance of sport fishing.
One study FECOP will be doing that will be especially exciting is Pacific Tarpon. Not indigenous to Pacific waters the numbers caught on the Pacific coastline has been increasing annually. It is suspected they have come through the Panama Canal and are breeding in Pacific waters. Fish will be captured, tagged, a tissue sample taken and then released. Genetics and feeding habits can be determined by a tissue sample. The study will be done in the southern zone where more fish have been taken, but tarpon have been caught up on the Nicoya Peninsula and one was caught recently as far north as El Salvador.
I remember years ago I would see an article about fishing in Costa Rica in a fishing magazine, or a television show about catching tarpon by the boat load in the jungle. It started a series of “bucket list” fishing fantasies in my head. I made my first trip to Costa Rica over 30 years ago, caught and released a ton of fish, and told all my friends when I got back to the States: “I don’t know how yet, but I am going to figure out a way to live down there.”
Twenty-seven years have passed since I moved to Costa Rica, and I have been fortunate enough to run world-renowned fishing operations over the years. Big fish tend to beat me up more these days than vice versa, but the fever for both the sport and the country has never left me.
Costa Rica has so much to offer all types of anglers that it is a shame not to experience it. Here is a rundown of some of the many sport fishing opportunities.
Guapote (rainbow bass) are available in Lake Arenal, along with machaca, a relative of the South American piranha that is quite acrobatic when hooked. The rivers and lagoons in Los Chiles, which is in the Northern Zone, and all along the Caribbean seaboard have those species as well, plus tarpon and snook that also venture deep into the freshwater ecosystems. Several types of other cichlads, known as morjarra are found deep in the jungle and make for great ultra-light fun.
High in the mountains that divide the Pacific coast from Cartago, known as the Cerro de la Muerte, anglers will find wild rainbow trout in almost every creek. In that region, San Gerardo de Dota is a popular area and is also great for birdwatching species like the elusive quetzal. Fishing in a National Park is not permitted, so check that the area you are in is not park property.
If you would like to take the kids, there are trout hatcheries along the Pan American Highway, which runs through the Cerro de la Muerte. You can fish at those hatcheries and they charge you by weight. Stone Mountain Outdoors in Santa Ana has good information on trout fishing.
The Caribbean side is world-famous for tarpon and snook. Tarpon school up outside the mouth of the river in pods that cover several acres. When it is hot, it is red hot and you will pull on big fish all day. As mentioned above, they will also enter the rivers and back lagoons.
The fishing in the ocean is done with lures or sardines on circle hooks. Inside the mouth of the river, it is almost always done with artificial lures. The late Bill Barnes made fly fishing for tarpon popular in the area.
Snook are also taken in the rivers and lagoons as well as the beach. There are four species of snook on the Caribbean side. The fat snook (calva) run that starts in December offers a chance to catch lots of snook on light tackle. It is a smaller species of snook and averages 5 to 8 pounds. The monsters that made Costa Rica famous in the fishing world are usually taken off the beach at the rivermouth. Rarely will you see lots of fish, but you have a chance to tangle with a once-in-a-lifetime fish of 35 pounds or more.
The Pacific side of Costa Rica boasts two fishing seasons, with the central and southern regions most productive November through April. In the north, the good bite is from May through December.
The last few years have seen record numbers of sailfish on the Pacific side. El Niño slowed the bite last year, but during the two previous years, records were broken for the number of releases in the Los Sueños and Marina Pez Vela tournaments. Last year in the Offshore World Tournament at Marina Pez Vela, the sailfish were noticeably absent, while marlin released records were crushed.
Dorado or dolphinfish have started off as a bang this fishing season, showing what seems to be a recovery of the stocks that migrate through here. Dorado is not only a beautiful fighting fish but also great table fare.
Also in the bluewater are marlin, tuna, and wahoo. Tuna have made a great comeback after the area in which purse seiners are allowed to work was reduced 200,000 square kilometers in 2014, and the reduction of purse sein licenses granted to foreign fleets was reduced from 43 to 13 in 2017. There have been phenomenal catches of marlin around man made marine eco-systems. You probably won’t see a grander (a marlin over 1000 lbs) here in Costa Rica, but the Pacific offers blue, black, and striped marlin.
Roosterfish are the Holy Grail inshore on the Pacific side, and are available there all year, unlike other areas. The average is 10-15 lbs, but 50-lb fish are common. Also available inshore are a large variety of snappers, grouper, jacks, African pompano and others. When the water is clear, wahoo and dorado venture close to shore. Roosters, snook, jacks and snapper can be taken here casting from the beach.
Don’t pass up a chance to fish in Costa Rica. And remember: a Costa Rican fishing license is required for all anglers over 16 years of age.
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Todd Staley is a Tico Times columnist and director of communications for FECOP, a sport fishing advocacy federation recently chosen to represent Costa Rica in the Panamerican Sportfishing Delegation, formed by groups from the United States and all Latin America countries. One of the group’s goals is to get sportfishing recognized as a competitive sport and to organize teams from various nations to compete in the Pan-American games. The group also seeks a common front on conservation issues. Costa Rica will host the Federation Assembly in November 2018 followed by a roosterfish tournament with competitors from the different nations. Learn more at www.fishcostarica.org
Sportfishing groups from the United States, Mexico and several Latin American countries met in Cancun, Mexico in November for the inaugural assembly of the Panamerican Sportfishing Delegation. The purpose of the group is to promote sportfishing as a competitive sport and have a common front of on fisheries conservation. Goals are to have sportfishing placed in the Pan American Games and with cooperation from European countries, the long-term goal is to make sportfishing an Olympic sport. With golf, table tennis, and handball already Olympic sports and skateboarding, surfing, sports climbing, and mixed gender competition introduced to the 2020 Games, it is time to introduce sportfishing to the event.
According to the Confederation International of Sport Fishing, (CIPS) founded in 1952 in Rome Italy with 50 million members from 77 countries, the America’s are not yet sufficiently organized for sport fishing to be considered for the Olympics. The America’s include all countries from North, Central and South America. The Federacion Costarricense de Pesca Turistica (FECOP) a Costa Rica non-profit which represents 8 Sportfishing Associations as well as the National Fishing Club and the Club Amateur de Pesca was asked to represent Costa Rica in the Panamerican delegation. FECOP has been a pioneer in conservation in Costa Rica including, stopping the exportation of sailfish, sponsoring and supplying the science to protect over 200,000 square kilometers of territorial water from tuna purse sein boats in 2014. A reduction of tuna licenses sold to foreign fleets (43 down to 13) in 2017 saved 25 metric tons of marlin bycatch this year. “It is very exciting to be chosen to represent Costa Rica,” exclaimed Carlos Cavero, President of FECOP. “We now have an open line of communication with other countries and will join the Americas in a single agency that represent sport fishing interests. Costa Rica has so much to offer the sport fishing world and has many anglers with the skills to compete on an International level.”
Four Panamerican tournaments are scheduled in 2018 representing different types of sport fish. A largemouth bass event will be held on Lake Okeechobee, snook in Tabasco, Mexico, and an offshore tournament at Isle Mujeres, Mexico. Guatemala was also suggested as a possible location for a snook event. Costa Rica and FECOP will host the 2018 Panamerican Assembly next November followed by a 3-day International roosterfish tournament. Site has yet to be determined. Luis Garcia will head up the events with the following representatives in charge by species.
Largemouth bass, John Knight USA
Snook, Rolando Sias , Mexico
Offshore Big Game, Jose Espinoza, Mexico
Tarpon, Carlos Cavero, Henry Marin, Costa Rica
Roosterfish, Todd Staley, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is world famous for it’s Pacific side billfish action. Marina Pez Vela and Los Suenos host several world class events. FECOP was asked to pick a species accessible to many that offers anglers without big game skills a chance to do well and highlight the country’s fishery at the same time. Two species came to mind for a catch and release style tournament. All fish released will be marked with a spaghetti tag for scientific study. Roosterfish on the Pacific and tarpon on the Caribbean side of the country. FECOP decided to get a roosterfish tournament under it’s belt and add an International tarpon tournament in 2019. Of course, you can’t travel all the way to Mexico and not wet a line in the Gulf of Mexico. The group boarded the EL Patron not really feeling optimistic about catching. It was not yet quite the season for the big pelagics and the red small craft warning flags had been blowing in the breeze
the last couple of days. The bonita and small king mackerel were there to play. The breeze picked up and Ben Blegen, a tournament ice fisherman from Minnesota soon laid out a chum line of scrambled eggs, tortillas, and Mexican choriza. The color returned quickly when despite that awful queasy feeling he managed to land a mackerel over 30 lbs. Later while looking out at the turquoise waters at Puerto Morales, the Mexican’s put on a seafood feast of lobster, fresh mackerel and Mexican rice. Amazing how Ben’s appetite returned.
Tagging Roosterfish with Gray Fish-Tag by Todd Staley
Todd Staley – Special Content Contributor
I have never enjoyed fishing under pressure. I prefer to fish for fun. There was a time in my life I fished a few money tournaments and even won one or two. Nowadays, if I am fishing a tournament, it’s a charity event, where the winners are generally children with illnesses.
Even when fishing a client, I like to fish with someone who was more interested in having a good time on the water rather than catching a ton of fish or a giant fish. A much better fisherman than myself who actually was just inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame explained it very simply to me. Larry Dahlberg said, “Your chances of catching a really nice fish is directly related to how much you deserve it.”
I have noticed over the years that a good attitude catches fish and a bad attitude eats dirt. One’s relationship with the fish gods play a big part. Inexperienced anglers with good mojo have better luck than a good angler with a bad attitude.
On this particular day, the pressure was on. Gray Fish-Tag research center coordinator Bill Dobbelaer and marine scientist Travis Moore were down from Ft. Lauderdale to place another archival electronic tag in a roosterfish. Usually this would be a simple task, today was different. An ominous gray sky loomed on the horizon and the breeze was much stronger than usual for an early morning. We needed a fish around 30 lbs so it could comfortably wear the device that needed to be implanted.
The event was co-sponsored by Crocodile Bay Resort and FECOP, the sport fishing advocacy and marine conservation group in Costa Rica. Crocodile Bay Resort’s crew was Oldemar Lopez and Sharlye Robles. Anglers, Christian Bolanos from Gray Taxidermy in Quepos and myself. Capt. Lopez suggested we try Matapalo Rock a popular roosterfish at the mouth of the Golfo Dulce. The overnight showers had muddied up some other popular inshore spots so it made sense.
Roosterfish is the perfect choice for this kind of study. It is a strong fighting fish, popular inshore game fish and Gray Fish-Tag has already learned a lot about them from the traditional spaghetti tag. Because it is a coastal animal, a good number of tagged fish have been caught again. The spaghetti tag is inserted on the shoulder of a fish and has a serial number. The number is reported to the research center by sport fishermen who recapture the fish. With this method, the information is limited to where it was caught and what size it is. When recaptured we learn how much it has grown over the period of time between captures and how far it traveled. The electronic tag records much more information but the fish must be recaptured also. The success with spaghetti tags made it worth the bet because they cost $1500 a piece. Four have been placed first time around. One in Quepos, one in Herradura, and two in the southern zone around Golfo Dulce.
As we reached the mouth of the gulf we were hit by a wall of wind in our face. Still a half mile from Matapalo Rock we trudged on. As we finally arrived I thought about renaming the famous landmark, at least for this day, Whirlpool or Maytag. It stood like the spindle of a washing machine and the surrounding waters were in the agitate cycle. We worked a nearby pinnacle but it was almost impossible to do a decent drift over the spot. Over and over we worked the area, fishing with one hand and holding on with the other. Somehow the conversation turned to the relationship between biologists and fishermen. A lot of biologists have never fished and a lot of fishermen don’t know the difference between an otolith and an eyeball. They are at times at wits end with each other because sometimes neither respects the opinion of the other. Travis laughed and said, “I can tell you a whole lot about roosterfish, but to be honest I have never caught one.
About that time Bolanos’s rod twitched and then slammed down towards the water and line screamed of the reel. After a 20-minute balancing act he had a 35 lb roosterfish on the surface. Travis jumped into action, made an incision in the fish’s belly and had the tag inserted and stitched up in less than two minutes while running water over the fishes gills. The rooster took off like he had a firecracker under his butt when placed back in the water. Mission Accomplished!
We had heard some chatter on the radio about a school of tuna working a couple miles off the beach so we ran out. We found the dolphins and tuna but the tuna wasn’t interested in anything we had to offer. Then we made a unanimous decision. Let’s go back to the rock and see if we can get Travis a rooster. Back to the washing machine!
It took about thirty minutes but finally Travis was hooked into his first rooster. He got the fish to the boat a dozen times and each time it would peel off another 50 yards of line. Eventually he had the fish to the boat and it went an easy 50 lbs. That is like winning the lottery the first time you by a ticket. I think we made a fisherman out of Travis. I know one thing. My biologist friend knew a hell of a lot more about roosterfish than he did when the day started.
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Note: I first wrote about this many years ago in The Tico Times, but it seems not much has changed since then, and it is time to rethink our actions once again.
Bragging is part of human nature. We all do it, no matter what activity we partake in. I’ve seen bird-watchers nearly exchange punches as they reviewed their sighting scorecards at the end of the day, accusing each other of inventing the number of different species they saw. Fishermen, I believe, were born with a more dominant bragging gene than most of the public. For any type of bragging, photographic proof is the most convincing tool of all. Thus, the “hero shot” was born.
The traditional hero shot shows an angler posing in front of the camera with a giant smile, proudly displaying in his hands – or on his lap, if the fish is too heavy to lift – the trophy he or she has caught. If one is keeping the fish as a food item, it doesn’t much matter how you take the picture, because the fish is going in the icebox. If the fish is going to be released, however, it is a different story altogether, especially a fish the size of a sailfish or marlin.
As 90 percent of anglers coming to Costa Rica are after sailfish or marlin, and all sailfish must be released by law, let’s talk about these species.
You can go to almost any website that features fishing in Costa Rica and see photos of sailfish being dragged across the gunwale of the boat and posed with the angler for the “hero shot.” Then the fish is put back in the water. This had been the norm for more than two decades. Most marine biologists agree that pulling the fish overboard for pictures can severely harm the fish. Air exposure reduces intake of oxygen and offload of carbon dioxide, which causes stress to the fish. Dragging a big fish across the gunwale can damage internal organs as well as remove the protect slime making them susceptible to bacteria and parasites.
Over eight years ago, in December 2008, Costa Rica passed regulations making it illegal to remove sailfish from the water for the purpose of taking a photo. A fine of ₡2 million (around $3,500) can be imposed on those found in violation. For the most part, this regulation has been ignored by the sport fishing fleet for various reasons.
First, I’d bet you a boatload of ballyhoo most people don’t even know this regulation exists. Website and brochure photos with happy people posing with big sailfish out of the water sell fishing trips, just like years ago a bunch of dead fish hanging at the dock sold trips. When tourists see these types of photos advertised, they want to bring home their own hero shot, with the sailfish onboard, to show all their friends back home. Fishing crews oblige them in hopes of getting a good tip.
A good crew does an orientation with the client before leaving the dock. This includes discussing the boat’s safety equipment, the level of the angler’s experience and how we fish billfish in Costa Rica. I have found that when clients are informed before leaving the dock that removing billfish from the water is not permitted in Costa Rica, and why, they are very receptive. A good owner or manager insists that his or her crews give a good introduction. Good communication is a big part of the whole experience, and it should start at the dock.
The Costa Rica government is finally starting to get its feet wet in marine conservation that is long overdue. So far, all their major decisions have continued to allow sport fishing in the new management areas. The Costa Rican Fishing Association (FECOP), a sport fishing advocacy project that started with President Laura Chinchilla, has protected over 200,000 square kilometers from tuna purse sein activity as well as moving them 45 miles from shore. Sport anglers have reported better tuna fishing as well as larger pods of spinner dolphins which are often associated with yellowfin tuna.
FECOP is currently investing more than $100,000, and the government even more, in a joint project with INCOPESCA and the National Training Institute (INA) to teach the use of “Green Sticks,” a selective type of commercial fishing for tuna which eliminates bycatch of sailfish. This also includes proper handling of the catch to receive the best market price.
The regulations are far from perfect in this country, and way too many billfish die each year as bycatch in commercial operations, but that does not give us the right to not follow the regulations in place. It is not difficult at all to leave them in the water and still get a good hero shot.
Taking a good photo of a billfish: After your crew has a calm fish alongside the boat.
1. Leave it in the water.
2. Have your camera ready. Most people want a shot with their own camera, so make sure your friends know how to use it. Valuable time is wasted explaining how to use it and the chance of a bad photo increases.
3. Always touch a fish with a pair of fishing gloves on. Lean over and gently place one hand on the bill and the other hand on the dorsal fin.
4. SMILE and click. All this can be done in less than a minute if you are prepared.
5. Then you can either pass the fish back to the crew or hold it yourself while the boat moves slowly forward to pass water over the fish’s gills. When you can feel the fish resist, gently push it away from the boat and watch it swim away.
6. High-five your friends and crew and keep fishing.
World’s Ocean Day 2017 – FECOP organized beach clean-ups in Golfito, Puerto Jimenez, Quepos and several other coastal towns. Join FECOP now to learn how you can help protect Costa Rica’s valuable natural resources for generations to come.
Fishermen report more tuna, dolphin along Pacific coast
Fishermen and tourism operators have reported an increase in sightings of tuna shoals along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in recent months, according to the Costa Rican Fisheries Federation (FECOP), a sport fishing and environmental interest group.
The increase in tuna has benefited local, commercial fishing and sport fishing in the region, and has had a positive impact on the number of dolphin in the area, the group said. Currently, dolphin “can be seen in the thousands,” FECOP said in a recent report.
The group credited an October 2014 governmental decree restricting industrial tuna fishing in Costa Rican waters with what it said were recovering tuna and dolphin populations. Pods of dolphin often travel with schools of tuna, and industrial tuna boats frequently snare dolphin when they cast their nets.
The decree, which was supported by FECOP and Costa Rican commercial fishermen, banned industrial tuna vessels from fishing within an area up to 40 miles from the coastline.
According to a 10-year study from FECOP, foreign-owned purse seine ships captured 90 percent of the tuna caught in Costa Rican waters between 2002 and 2011.
Now only small- and medium-scale longline fishing vessels are authorized to operate within these areas.
The law also requires large vessels to use satellite-tracking devices in order to allow monitoring of their position and verification of their compliance with the fishing exclusion areas.
Mauricio González Gutiérrez, executive director of the National Chamber of Longline Fishermen, supported FECOP’s report, saying many of the chamber’s associates have seen an improvement in fish populations following the signing of the decree.
González said that they have received reports of monthly catches ranging from 100 and 140 tuna over the past year. They have also gotten reports of larger tuna caught.
“We started seeing an improvement in medium-size tuna that usually ranged from 26-29 kilos. Then in April we started getting reports of tuna up to 34 kilos,” he said.
González noted that fishing exclusion areas also help local fishermen and women work closer to the coastline, which helps them reduce the time spent on the open sea, saving them money in fuel and other supplies.
FECOP’s report states that the spike in tuna schools is also having a direct impact on the tourism industry, as more tourists are choosing to go sport fishing and dolphin watching. These visitors also stay at local hotels, hire local transport services, rent boats and spend on food and entertainment, the report states.
Quesada believes sightings should be evaluated using scientific criteria before emphatically assuring that “more tuna shoals and more dolphin pods in the area are a direct result of the [government’s] regulations.”
The government’s decree, he said, “is not perfect and therefore people should scientifically verify whether these sightings correspond to effects of the restrictions or if they are incidental.”
Quesada noted that the increase in sightings could be the result of a variety of situations, such as a decrease in fishing in neighboring countries.
In 2014 President Luis Guillermo Solis signed a Tuna Decree prohibiting tuna purse sein operations within 45 miles of the coastline of Costa Rica. Other important areas and sea mounts were also protected effectively prohibiting tuna netting operations in over 200,000 square kilometers of territorial water.
Tuna Decree Is Working
This Tuna Decree was sponsored by FECOP, a Costa Rican nonprofit sport fishing Federation made up of 7 sport fishing associations encompassing Costa Rica.
FECOP’s director of science, Moises Mug has been monitoring the results ever since as a part of the original agreement which not only includes fish stocks but also investigating more sustainable ways to supply the Costa Rican cannery with product.
Before the agreement 44 foreign tuna boats were operating, with 25,000 metric tons of tuna were being captured annually with only 36% of the catch going to the local port. The rest were being delivered in foreign ports.
Costa Rica’s governing body for fishing regulations, INCOPESCA, has put a temporary ban on new licenses for foreign fleets, (there are no Costa Rican flagged purse sein boats) until the end of the year. Hopefully this is a preamble of the new proposed tuna regulations.
The new proposal will allow for only 7 to 9 licenses sold annually and a quota limit of 8,000 to 9,000 metric tons with all fish going to the local cannery. “This measure will reduce the bycatch impact tuna purse sein fisheries have on marine mammals, billfish, sharks, dorado, wahoo and sharks”, explained Mug. This is great news also for spinner and spotted dolphins who have a symbiotic relationship with yellowfin tuna in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Dolphins are often netted and later released in the process of catching tuna, though not without some injuries.
The actions have reduced billfish bycatch in Costa Rica by purse seiners by 70% from over 30 metric tons annually to just over 5 metric tons.
FECOP is currently investing over $100,000 in an ongoing co-project with two government agencies, INCOPESCA and INA, a technical learning institution where all people working on a boat must be trained and certified. The project includes learning to fish “green sticks”, a selective type of fishing with no bycatch, as well as the proper handling of their product to receive best market value. As longliners eventually begin using this method, the bycatch of billfish on longlines will be drastically reduced. The public demand for sustainably caught seafood is a boost to the project.
“Costa Ricans are a proud people”, commented Captain German Bustos, who has over three decades of experience sport fishing while explaining successes in marine conservation issues. “FECOP’s entire staff are Costa Rican citizens. The decision makers here will listen more eagerly to its own people rather than outside groups suggesting how things should be done.”
Other FECOP Success Stories
Stopped the exportation of sailfish for commercial purposes
Created the largest Marine Area of Responsible Fishing in Central America, the topical fjord, Golfo Dulce
Is teamed with Gray Fish-Tag research granting Costa Rican University students scholarships to study species related to sport fishing.
Reader Not Fond of ‘Torturing Fish’ — But Sport Fishing isn’t the Problem
I started doing the fishing column for The Tico Times years ago when it still had a print edition. Four years ago I went over the side of the aptly named Cerro de la Muerte, or Mountain of Death, and tumbled 200 feet downhill, nearly killing my wife.
I fell into a funk watching her suffer operation after operation. My close friends tried to convince me it was an accident, but I couldn’t help feeling responsible, and the guilt was overwhelming. I lost the desire to write, along with many other things.
My wife is much better but will never be the same, and I eventually worked my way out of the funk I was in. Recently, Karl Kahler of The Tico Times interviewed me for an article he was writing, and I mentioned that I used to do the fishing column for the paper. He invited me to return.
Well, right out of the chute on my first report about the Offshore World Championship fishing tournament at Marina Pez Vela, I found a reader who was not so fond of me. Someone using the name Wigsy wrote in, saying:
“Regarding: ‘Even though the numbers of sailfish were noticeably absent, the numbers of marlin caught were much better.’ …For cripes sake, catching these fish (for sport?!!) injures them and causes trauma and stress at the very least. So much for eco tourism. And an Oil company sponsoring it. Obviously with this size of “tourny” Costa Rica’s billfish population will continue to decline. They likely were forced to have the competition Offshore as it would be illegal to do so within the boundary limits. Time to get a new hobby, boys: how about bird watching (instead of torturing fish for fun)? Some people in Costa Rica need to fish in order to survive, making this sort of fiasco the perfect image of perverse excess. Obvious lack of any journalism in this article. (Perhaps it was written by the sponsors and should instead be labelled an advertisement.)”
My guess is that Wigsy’s father, grandfather, or even single mother, as in my case, never taught him how to fish. My mother taught me to respect and care for the ocean, to keep only what I needed and put the rest back. She also taught me the secret to happiness is doing something for others and not expecting anything in return, and that a man’s ego is his worst enemy, so Wigsy’s jabs at my lack of journalism skills didn’t sting too badly.
I am an old Florida redneck fisherman. I talk like one and write like one. It is a language both male and female anglers understand. I never went to Harvard or Yale or any fancy journalism school. My universities have been the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Pacific, and I have been in class for over five decades. I have learned to love and respect the ocean and the fabulous creatures that live in them. I never leave port without God and the ocean goddess Yemaya in my vessel.
Wigsy, like many others, does not understand sportfishing and thinks it is just a bunch of rich Gringos coming down here to molest fish for fun. Sportfishing benefits many Costa Ricans. I have been in the sportfishing business here over 25 years and have employed over 1,000 Costa Ricans at a better than average salary with full benefits.
I have seen them build nice homes for their families and send their children to universities with their earnings from sportfishing. In fact, a study of social economics done by the University of Costa Rica showed that sportfishing contributed 1.2 percent of Costa Rica’s annual $55 billion gross national product. Commercial fishing here contributes around .07 percent of the annual GNP.
Mark Twain taught me not to argue but rather educate. The part of Wigsy’s note that struck a chord was “Some people in Costa Rica need to fish in order to survive.” I assume he is talking about Costa Rican commercial fishermen, and he is absolutely right: they need to make a living. Where sportfishing is a sustainable activity with catch-and-release practices, commercial fishing is extraction.
A sailfish released by a sportfisherman is worth around $3,000 to the economy, while a dead sailfish off to the market is worth around $80. At the pace the world is going, experts say the world’s fisheries will be almost completely exhausted by the year 2050. The problem is not commercial fishermen or sportfishermen. The problem is non-selective and non-sustainable types of fishing. Bycatch, the killing of non-targeted species while fishing for market species, is a major problem worldwide.
Almost everyone coming to Costa Rica likes fresh seafood and Costa Rica has some of the best. Not just fishermen, but also ecotourists and even birdwatchers want to eat seafood while they are here. One thing overlooked by most eco-resorts waving the sustainability banner is their restaurant menu. Are all items on the menu captured in a sustainable manner?
Many people have no idea how fish are caught in this country. Let’s take a look.
Yellowfin tuna have a symbiotic relationship with dolphins. If you see a huge pod of dolphins on the surface, the tuna will be below. Since 1950, over 6 million dolphins have perished in purse seine nets, and even though dolphin deaths are few these days, tell me if this practice deserves a “dolphin safe” label on the can.
A helicopter takes off from the deck of a tuna boat and locates a pod of spinner dolphin. They begin to drop explosives, “cherry bombs,” illegal but often used on the dolphins to move them in the direction of the boat. The tuna will follow. When in position the whole pod of dolphins will be encircled by the net. After the net is closed, workers on the boat will drop one end of the net to release the dolphins that did not escape by jumping over it, but pods are broken up, young are separated from their mothers, a few die and the rest are traumatized. How safe is that? Not to mention all the billfish, turtles, sharks, manta rays, dorado and wahoo that are discarded, dead, back in the ocean.
A project was started by the Costa Rican Fishing Association (FECOP), a Costa Rican sportfishing lobby, during the administration of President Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014) and finally signed by decree by President Luis Guillermo Solís, moving the purse seine boats out 45 miles from the coast and protecting other sea mounts for a total of more than 200,000 square kilometers protected from purse seine activity. They also supplied the science for the current proposal to reduce the tuna fleet from 44 licenses down to seven to nine, and the annual harvest from 23,000 metric tons down to 8,000.
Another non-selective type of fishing is longlining — laying a line of baited hooks on the surface from 10 to 40 miles long or longer, and hours later picking it up to retrieve the catch. Dorado and sharks are the target species but thousands of sailfish, marlin and turtles all perish as well. If the catch is poor they will keep the sailfish, which are required by law to be released if alive. If the catch is good the sailfish is sometimes left dead on the line because the carcass creates a shadow below, attracting dorado, and the rotting flesh attracts sharks.
In January 2013 and again in November, there was an epidemic of dead sea turtles found floating in southern Costa Rica during two of the top months for dorado fishing. Nearly 400 turtles were discovered dead, and autopsies determined that longlines were to blame.
Using live bait on longlines has been a concern of sportfisherman, who say it increases the capture of non-target species like sailfish. INCOPESCA, which governs Costa Rica’s fishing laws, did a test to see if live bait really increased sailfish mortality. They set lines off Quepos from Aug. 25 to 29, varying from 4 to 10 miles in length. Of course, they picked August, when there are very few sailfish around. At the end of their four-day test, they had caught 14 dorado, three sailfish, two thresher sharks, three manta rays and 41 sea turtles.
This is probably the least sustainable type of fishing, where sleds drag the bottom, tearing up fauna and holding the nets down. For every kilo of shrimp caught, nine kilos of juvenile fish and other marine life die. Shrimping got so bad here that boats were targeting bottom species generally fished by the small-scale artisanal fleet. Shrimping has been banned in Costa Rica, with the last license expiring in 2019, but the shrimpers are lobbying with plenty of opposition to fish in a non-existent sustainable fashion.
Our oceans can no longer support non-selective types of fishing. It is not about fat rich Gringos verses humble Costa Rican fisherman. It is about the very life blood of our oceans.
Todd Staley has run fishing sport operations on both coasts of Costa Rica for over 25 years. He recently decided to take some time off to devote full time to marine conservation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.