Tag: Costa Rica Conservation

Deep Jigging in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Fishing – Deep Jigging Costa Rica Oddities
Article from Florida Fishing Weekly

Todd Staley FECOP“Jigging the depths of Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce brings returns of grouper, snapper, African pompano…as well as a host of other strange-looking fish. Better yet, it’s within sight of shore”

This is the time of year the rain forest shows its stuff on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. More than 20 percent of the annual rainfall comes in October. The Papagayo winds in Nicaragua have yet to blow, but when they do some time this month, the sailfish population will push to the South. Until the main body of sailfish arrive, marlin and dorado will be the primary targets for offshore anglers looking to troll. Anyone that fishes for marlin knows the Pacific is a big ocean, and locating fish is a matter of covering water and eliminating options. That means anglers have two choices; go hunting (for marlin) or go fishing (for other species). A patient angler will generally get his marlin. It might be like sitting in a tree stand all day waiting for that one big buck to walk by, but patience is typically rewarded in Costa Rica. And odds favor that the marlin will be substantial.

For those that aren’t up for the hunt, they might want to go fishing instead. What I mean by that is, if action is more important than trophy, stay closer to shore this time of year and get in on the terrific bottom fishing.

Thirty years ago when I was dropping baits for grouper in the Middle Grounds off the West Coast of Florida, if someone told me one day I would be jigging with a fairly light spinning rod in 400 feet of water for grouper and snapper, I would have thought they were crazy. And if they told me I could see people walking on the beach while I was doing it, I’d have called for the straight jacket. But that’s exactly what you can expect in southern Costa Rica. Bottom fishing in Costa Rica doesn’t mean a run offshore. To the contrary, a mile offshore will put you in water deeper than you care to fish almost anywhere on the Pacific side. Fortunately, I live on one of four tropical fjords in the world. The depth of the entrance to the 30-mile long Golfo Dulce is around 150 feet. It then gets deeper the farther up the bay you go and has a hole up at the end of the bay that drops to 900 feet. Here as in many parts of the world, deep jigging has become one of the most successful ways to fool deepwater predators. There is a reason the military puts jigs in survival kits, that’s because almost anything that swims will eat one.

FishingCosta Rica´s volcanic terrain runs not only to the coast, but also forms some very interesting structures underwater as well. And the deeper you go, the more the menu changes. Cory Craig from Tropic Fins charters is a guy who came down to Costa Rica on a fishing vacation, and within a couple years was building a house and charter business at the same time. He has studied the inshore fishing well and is not afraid to try new methods. When Craig’s charter landed a 60-plus pound roosterfish using a moonfish for bait, live moonfish became the hot offering, and everyone switched over to targeting roosterfish with these baits. Now Craig has taken his progressive methods into the bottom fishing realm. As far as deep jigging goes, the first hundred feet or so of water bring a variety of snappers, including the famous cubera, African pompano, broomtail grouper, roosterfish, amberjack, bonito and tuna. That’s a large variety of hard-fighting and good-eating fish that can be caught within sight of shore.

Costa Rica Deep Jigging Fishing CongriaDropping deeper than 150 feet of water is like venturing in the twilight zone, where there’s the potential to bring up fish you have never seen before. The Pacific red snapper is a good example of a species that won’t be found in less than 200 feet of water, and like the American red snapper, this fish is great table fare. Gulf Coney, a strange but tasty grouper, will hit a jig in 400 feet of water. There are other grouper-type fishes that I have no idea what they are, and can’t find them in books, but we catch them on a regular basis when deep dropping. Tilefish, rose threadfin bass and congria are other weird members of the deep-water clan that make the trip back to the dock and the dinner table.

All this great deep dropping action happens inside the Golfo Dulce, a short run from the dock, so if the offshore seas are rough or you want to break up a week of marlin fishing and change out to a
more action oriented trip, you just have to shorten the distance of your excursion. Depending on weather, your decision to opt for action or a short at a trophy, and your patience level, this time of year make the choice: Do you want to go hunting or fishing. In the Southern Pacific peninsula of Costa Rica, we can offer both.

Todd Staley has spent the last 18 years in the sport fishing business in Costa Rica, running fishing
operations on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

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Costa Rica Sailfish Tagging

Young Biologist Studies Sailfish

Young biologist’s only sailfishing trophies are tissue samples

The sailfish popped up in the spread lit up in an iridescent purple hue. This fish was hungry and vigorously slashed the teaser with its bill. Everyone jumped into action. Capt. Melvin Sánchez sounded the alarm from the tower, as he was the first to see the oceanic swordsman appear. Mate Sharlye Oporta screamed for the angler to get ready, and the angler reached for his 14-weight fly rod attached to a fly that looked like half of a pink chicken with a hook in. Beatriz Naranjo anxiously observed.

It had been a frustrating morning. This was the fifth fish that had showed up in the spread, the array of teasers (lures without hooks) trolled behind the boat to attract billfish (marlin and sailfish). The angler, a visitor to Costa Rica from Colorado, was a well-versed fly fisherman when it came to small fish, streams and much lighter equipment. He had often read of the exciting battles with large deep-sea creatures on a fly rod, and it was on his bucket list.
the air.

The first fish was a case of buck fever. The teasers were cleared, the fish took the fly and the angler froze. In half a second the sailfish figured this wasn’t as tasty as it thought and spit it out.

In the second attempt the back cast ended wrapped up in the outrigger and the opportunity was lost. Fish number three, the angler tried to set the hook with his rod instead of pulling on the line, and the fish escaped. The next fish came in lazy and wasn’t interested.

Now fish number five came up hot. Everyone did a quick little “fish” prayer in their head. No one on board wanted to see that fish caught more than Beatriz Naranjo.

When some little girls were playing with dolls, playing make-believe hairdresser or make-believe mom, Beatriz was exploring the forest near her home in Tarrazú, high up in coffee country. She and her cousins would spend all day climbing trees, walking creek beds and turning over whatever they could move to see what lived underneath. It is little wonder she chose to study science, specifically marine science, at the University of Costa Rica, from which she graduated.
When FECOP (the Costa Rica Sport fishing Federation) teamed up with Gray Taxidermy’s fish tagging research program, they put their heads together to reward college students interested in studying species related to sportfishing. That encompasses not only pelagic species, but many inshore species also. They decided to have a competition among students from all universities in Costa Rica, and Beatriz won a scholarship with her proposal to study the feeding ecology of sport fish.

That science has had many advancements. Beatriz became interested in feeding ecology while studying the stomach contents of rainbow trout in the high altitudes of the Savegre River. That required killing the sample and opening the stomach. It also told the story of a very short window of time in the animal’s life. Today, with a very small tissue sample from a live animal, scientists can determine what exactly that fish has been feeding on over a long period of time.

For inshore species such as snappers, groupers, congrias, and mackerel, she could seek the assistance of artisanal fishermen for samples. For species that are normal catch-and-release, she needed to ride along on sport fishing boats. She has gathered nearly 800 samples, which co-scholarship winner José Luis Molina will soon be studying in a laboratory.

FECOP’s director of science and research, Moises Mug, says the partnership with Gray FishTag Research has been a win-win for all.

“Their database is growing rapidly, at rates that have surpassed the NOAA tagging programs, so NOAA is now partnering with Gray FishTag Research to improve their own tagging program,” he said. “Also, in addition to tagging all species that our professional charter boat captains and customers seek in Costa Rica, they have successfully deployed satellite tagging for the first time ever on a roosterfish in Costa Rica.”

Beatriz, who did most of her pelagic studies out of Puerto Jiménez, liked the area so much she has settled there and works as a guide for Aventuras Tropicales kayak tours, often doing long treks in the Golfo Dulce. After graduation in June, she plans to pursue a master’s in scientific nature and do a study on mercury levels in Costa Rican fish.

“Before I got involved in this study I did not like sport fishing,” Beatriz said. “It has had a bad reputation among Costa Rican people. What I met was very nice people, families and couples who come to our country to fish.”

What impressed her most were the Costa Ricans who worked on the boats and how they cared for the fish that they caught and released. Many told her they used to be commercial fisherman and were away from their families for weeks at a time. Now they make a better living and are home with their families every night.

And so now sailfish number five charged in. Teasers were cleared and the angler from Colorado made his cast. This time, when the fish engulfed the fly, the angler didn’t flinch. He set the hook with a slip-strike, pulling on the line instead of the rod, and instantly the fish burned 150 yards of line off the reel and began its dance across the flat blue aquatic dance floor.

Thirty minutes later the fish was beside the boat and Beatriz jumped into action. She placed a tag in the fish to study its movements and took a small sample of tissue before releasing it. The angler high-fived his crew as he scratched one off the bucket list.

These studies will become invaluable in learning more about, and responsibly managing, billfish. I personally am very interested to see what they feed on over a long period of time – besides half a pink chicken.

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Costa Rica fishing sailfish

Costa Rica Sailfish WANTED – Alive!

Why a Costa Rica Sailfish is Worth More Alive than Dead

Article courtesy www.larepublica.net

A study carried out by the Research Institute of Economic Sciences of the UCR, reports that in 2008 Costa Rica sport fishing as an economic activity contributed approximately $ 599.1 million, which represents 2.13% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our country (2008).

Costa Rica fishing

Another study by Southwick Associates Inc. estimated that “271,200 United States residents fished in Costa Rica” during 2009. Of those 271,200 Americans, 40% said they would not visit Costa Rica if they had not been able to fish. This means that in 2009, Costa Rica would have received 110,690 fewer visitors, which represents a loss of $ 128.7 million.

Fortunately, ten years later, Costa Rica continues to be a world-renowned sport fishing destination. However, our ability to retain this tourist segment is at risk due to mismanagement of species of sporting interest, such as sailfish, tuna and marlin.

This risk forces us to know in depth the contributions related to our economy of sport fishing and commercial fishing because both seek to extract the same species.

Therefore, it is necessary to reiterate the need for a strategy of integral management of species such as sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) and blue marlin (Makaira Mazara) that seeks to maximize the creation of socio-economic value through the conservation of the fishing resource and the sustainable development.

For example, one day of sport fishing aboard a Costa Rican boat generates about $ 1,000, while one kilo of retail sailfish only around 1,776.6 colones (about $4). A good day of sport fishing consists of 10 sailfish caught and released alive, while a good day of commercial fishing consists of extracting these same sailfish to be sold at a very low commercial value.

Costa Rica billfish tagging program

The sport fishing sector provides formal and stable jobs, generates commercial clusters that benefit entire communities such as Herradura, Quepos, Golfito and Papagayo. Courtesy / La Republica

The sport fishing sector provides formal and stable jobs, generates commercial clusters that benefit entire communities such as Herradura, Quepos, Golfito and Papagayo, and additionally guarantees the conservation of species of tourist interest. Its tradition of capture and release has high survival rates, and the technical advances in the tools used in the capture have allowed to reduce the damage of these species to a minimum.

That is to say, the sport fishing is a sustainable model that includes the three fundamental axes: society, environment and economy.

In general terms, it is evident that the effect on employment and the economy is greater in the case of sport fishing than in commercial fishing and requires strategic attention.

Even, there is a great opportunity in this sector that we have not taken advantage of. Currently we only attract 3.6% of the fishing tourist population of the United States, while other countries such as Mexico manage to attract more than three times, thus generating profits well above ours.

It is clear that we must strengthen and develop the sector in such a way that we are able to attract more numbers of sports fishermen.

In conclusion, it is necessary that the commercial fishing sector and the sport fishing sector be complementary in order to maximize the opportunity of creating socioeconomic value for the country.

We can not risk losing the many benefits of of sports fishing tourism to Costa Rica

For Costa Rica, the opportunity is magnificent.

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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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Why I sometimes hate conservation – or, the ‘dolphin breeding ground’ debacle

Why I sometimes hate conservation – or, the Dolphin Breeding Ground Debacle

The Dolphin Breeding Ground Debacledolphins deserve our protection, an ongoing petition regarding a new development is misleading, according to the author Todd Staley

Todd Staley FECOP

Todd Staley- Special Content Contributor

This fisherman is about to open a can of worms here for the second time.

The first time was when I agreed with a national legislator who suggested opening the National Parks to sport and small-scale artisanal fishing. Thirty-eight NGOs screamed, “No!” I suggested they open them and charge a fee to fish there to raise money for enforcement patrols, which were, and still, are nearly non-existent.

Here I go again, about to raise the hair on the backs of the necks of many in the environmental crowd. It started when a post hit my inbox with a petition sponsored by Planet Rehab.org on the Change.org website, which allows anyone in the world to start an online petition for free. This petition urged people to help stop a Hilton Curio hotel from being built in Puerto Jiménez, in the country’s Southern Zone.

The petition’s headline read, “Prevent Hilton from building a hotel on top of a Dolphin Breeding Ground.” The sub-headline that followed was a stern message to Hilton which read, “Hilton, we’re breaking up with you, so we can save the dolphins before it’s too late!” Over 50,000 people have signed the petition, and they appear to be gaining more signatures every day.

A very wise man once gave me some very sage advice when he told me, “Always put your cards on the table, because once they are on the table, they are off the table.” So here come my cards.

I am very well-versed on this subject. For the last 18 years I have walked the pier at Crocodile Bay as Fishing Director, sending thousands of tourists out sport fishing. The Crocodile Bay property is the site where the Hilton will be built. I also know the person behind the petition very well. After five decades on the water, I also know a little bit about dolphins.

If you think I am going to defend the Hilton project in this article, you will be sorely disappointed. The developers are big boys and can do that for themselves. Because I spend a lot time working with marine conservation and am employed by the developers, people often corner me looking for my opinion. I have never given an opinion pro or con; it’s not my place to defend the project. What I have defended against many times is fabricated statements from environmental zealots who prey on uninformed or uneducated people to support their opinion for whatever their cause is.

The Change.org petition states that the area in question is “essential for the reproduction of many marine species, potentially destroying endemic dolphin breeding grounds and putting all aquatic marine life in imminent danger.”

It continues, “This large-scale Hilton Hotel Botanika Resort can only be stopped by an urgent appeal to the directors of Hilton Curio Worldwide, alerting them to the potential damage their project will cause.”

The key word in both those statements is “potential.” It is a word that can be used as a giant loophole to cover one’s tail when making outlandish statements.

Maybe I could post a petition on Change.org to my own advantage. It would read something like this. “Todd Staley is a fisherman and mediocre writer. He has a couple of tattoos and on the weekends when it is not raining, he rides his Harley Davidson. Staley could potentially roust up a bunch of bikers and pillage your pueblo. Please donate today to buy him a new boat to keep him on the water and off the street.”

I slowly waded through many of the comments left by people who signed the Hilton petition. After I got through the vulgarities and the threats to never sleep in a Hilton again, I stumbled on some I really liked:

“Please verify the findings on marine biologists for the claim in this petition and look to relocate to a less fragile location.”

“This is unacceptable if these dolphins loose there breeding ground were would they Go, for all we know if would take them years or months to find a new place to breed and are dolphins would be more endanger then ever.”

“Apparently they ( Hilton) did not research this very well to even think about building on a Dolphin breeding ground.”

And my personal favorite, “Dolphins are people too.”

Why is that my favorite? Because “dolphins are people too” is a lot closer to the truth than anything else I read. After observing dolphins while fishing for over fifty years, I decided to ask some marine experts, “What exactly is a dolphin breeding ground?” I sought the opinion of a marine biologist, a marine mammal expert, and a woman who has worked alongside dolphins and whales here in Costa Rica for years.

They told me that reproductive habits of dolphins are not defined exclusively by the need to perpetuate the species: like humans, these cetaceans mate for pleasure with individuals of the opposite sex, of the same genus or even a different species from their own, so talking about reproductive habits in strict terms does not apply to dolphins. Some researchers think that their recreational sexuality has social purposes. When a female feels she will deliver her calf, she tends to move away from her pod and separates herself to an area near the water surface to facilitate the first breath of her calf. There is no particular area dolphins go to mate or birth.

There are no dolphin “no-tell motels” or maternity wards. They mate whenever and wherever they happen to be when the mood hits them, and birth wherever they are when the time comes. There is no such thing as a “dolphin breeding ground.”

If the people who posted that petition are really just concerned about dolphins, I suggest they push away their tuna salad and worry about the large pods of dolphins that are netted hundreds of times to catch the tuna that swim under them. The dolphins are later released. A few dolphins die in the process; I’m sure the dolphins don’t like it. Thankfully, there is a fast-growing trend and demand for sustainably caught fish, and tuna fishermen are beginning to search out selective gear with little or no bycatch.

Anger or fear are great motivators. But in this case, 50,000 people – and counting – have been misled.

I really love conservation work. The politics of conservation can at times be quite frustrating, and the business of conservation can be at times disgusting. NGOs will sometimes work on similar projects but never communicate with each other for fear of losing credit for a success or even potential donor money. If they communicated, they could get things done faster and more cheaply, but conservation and environmental work are sometimes big business. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who will misuse donor money or even advertise for fake causes to raise money.

Sadly, this “dolphin breeding ground” petition, and the reaction to it, only fortifies an opinion I have held for some time. That is the difference between a conservationist and an environmentalist: a conservationist makes decisions based on science, while an environmentalist at times makes science based on decisions.

Read Todd Staley’s Wetline Costa Rica columns here.

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 wetline@hotmail.com.

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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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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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