Category: Project-categoy

Explaining The Costa Rica Tuna Decree

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?

yellowfin tuna sashimi 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.

More information can be found about FECOP at www.fishcostarica.org

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FECOP to Represent Costa Rica in Panamerican Sportfishing Delegation

FECOP Costa Rica SportfishingSportfishing 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.

You can learn more about FECOP at www.fishcostarica.org

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Gray Roosterfish Tagging Update by Todd Staley

Tagging Roosterfish with Gray Fish-Tag by Todd Staley

Todd Staley FECOP

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.

Costa Rica roosterfish taggingAbout 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.

Costa Rica Roosterfish Tagging

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2017 Beach Clean Up

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.

 

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Costa Rica Sport Fishing Federation

FECOP KIDS – Educational Programs for Costa Rican Youth

Educational programs for Costa Rican youth. Through training workshops, and Fun Kids and Family fishing tournaments, FECOP is bringing together Costa Rica’s youth while teaching about conservation of our waterways and the benefit and importance of sport fishing in the coastal communities. Investing in the next generations is investing in the sustainability of our activities.

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FECOP COSTA RICA FISHING FEDERATION

Costa Rica’s Tuna Decree Is Saving Billfish & Dolphin

  • 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.

    billfish conservationTuna 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.

    tuna limitsBefore 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.

    fishing costaCosta 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.

    Tuna DecreeThe 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.

    For more information contact info@fecop.org or check out more about fishing in Costa Rica.

    Photos of spinner dolphins caught in tuna net and sailfish bycatch courtesy of Divine Dolphin, Costa Rica.

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