Tag: Costa Rica illegal fishing

Costa Rican Fishermen Want Access to Local Tuna

Tussling for tuna: Costa Rican Fishermen Want More Access to Local Tuna

The Tico Times

Todd Staley Published for The Tico Times February 14, 2019

Speed boats launched for a purse seiner to herd dolphins and tuna. (Photo courtesy of FECOP)

Robert Nunes is a commercial fisherman who actively defends his peers in Costa Rica’s commercial fishing industry. He volunteers a lot of his time with Mauricio Gonzalez, director of the Camera de Palangreros (or the chamber of longliners) traveling the country lobbying for fisherman’s rights.

Longlining is a type of fishing that boats set miles of hooks across the ocean and is not selective in what type of fish takes the bait placed on a hook. This has caused grief among many different groups who support, sharks, marlin, and sailfish that some people consider bycatch to a longline boat. The longline sector does not consider these species bycatch as the total catch is utilized and nothing gets wasted.

But Nunes is an innovator and found a way to specifically target tuna with less than one percent bycatch. One of first to outfit his commercial boats with greenstick, an art of fishing that targets tuna and rarely catches anything but tuna.

 

Robert Nunes (Photo courtesy of Changing Seas)

Tuna are able to see what’s happening above the water and greenstick fishing uses lures that skip along the surface, so greenstick fishermen rarely catch anything besides tuna.

Nunes has a six-boat operation. He fishes greenstick whenever possible and catches about 80 tons of tuna a year. That still only makes up for 40 percent of his catch though. Lots of times, tuna isn’t available so he longlines for dorado, which can catch sharks and billfish.

Gonzalez, the director of the chamber of longliners, is not opposed to using greenstick, but for him, it’s a matter of cost.

“We would love to fish greenstick a lot more,” says Gonzalez “If we had access to the [tuna]. We don’t have a lot of interest in many other species, but we need to make a living.”

Costa Rica has rich fisheries, but every year, thousands of tons of tuna are fished by foreign vessels. While local fishermen face high costs, those from other countries extract Costa Rican tuna for pennies on the dollar.

“It costs us as Costa Rican fishermen a lot more than foreign tuna boats to extract tuna from the ocean,” Nunes said.

To extract 80 tons of tuna, Nunes says he paid the government $46,178 in fees for licenses, social security, INS insurance, and taxes or $1.73 per kilo of tuna extracted from Costa Rican waters.

“If you add the salaries of my employees on the boats which is part of the costs to access the resource it is over $157,000 per year,” Nunes said.

That’s almost 200 times more than what the country makes off of foreign vessels.

Costa Rica sells a license to a foreign boat for $54 per net ton of that vessel’s capacity. If that boat sells 300 metric tons to the cannery in Puntarenas it receives the next license gratis. The system is perpetual. In 2018 Costa Rica issued 12 tuna licenses to fishing boats called purse seiners. Four were paid for and the rest were given away for free. All the boats were flagged from either Nicaragua or Venezuela.

They reported a total catch of 8,422 tons of tuna. In total Costa Rica collected $153,264.48 in fees. That means Costa Rica had a benefit of just under 2 cents or 11 colones for every kilo of tuna extracted from Costa Rican waters.

Gonzalez says purse seiners are also a local fishermen’s biggest nemesis.

A purse seiner set ontop of dolphins to catch the tuna below The Tico Times archives

Purse seiners surround schools of fish with up to several kilometers of net. The net is pulled in from the bottom and everything caught in the net’s radius is hauled into the boat. This type of fishing is highly regulated due to the amount of fish and bycatch a single boat is capable of producing.

In the Americas, the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) allots each member country a quota of tuna it can catch with purse seiners. The IATTC allots Costa Rica around 9,000 tonnes a year, but we catch none of it.

Costa Rica does not have any purse seine boats of its own and sells its quota to foreign flagged vessels. The system in place is outdated and Costa Rica benefits next to nothing by them being here.

We have a lot to gain from the leaving though.

As of 2014, purse seine boats can no longer work within 45 miles of Costa Rica’s shore and the sport fishing sector has seen a giant recovery in tuna. We’ve also seen more marlin and dorado which are often discarded bycatch by tuna boats.

By studying bycatch records from observers on board tuna boats in 2017, FECOP found that 25 tons of what would have been marlin bycatch were saved by reducing the area they fish. One purse seiner has the capacity to catch as much tuna in one trip as the entire commercial fleet of 300 longlines catches in one year.

“If there were more of the resource available to Costa Rican fishermen, we would target tuna. It is the fish that pays most at the market,” explained Nunes. “If you add the money generated by the sport fishing fleet for Costa Rica into the figures it is much more when you look at the whole picture.”

The benefit of giving tuna back to Costa Ricans would have a domino effect. Better living conditions for coastal families, less pressure on controversial species and more fish for the sport fishing sector as well. It would also place another star on Costa Rica’s reputation for taking care of nature.


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 and is the communications director at FECOP. Contact him at wetline@hotmail.com.

This story was made possible thanks to The Tico Times 5 % Club. If only 5 percent our readers donated at least $2 a month, we’d have our operating costs covered and could focus on bringing you more original reporting from around Costa Rica. We work hard to keep our reporting independent and groundbreaking, but we can only do it with your help. Join The Tico Times 5% Club and help make stories like this one possible.

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costa rica conservation sharks

7 Cool Facts About Hammerhead Sharks

7 Things You May Not Know About Hammerhead Sharks

Hammerhead sharks are known for their unique head shape and wide-set eyes, which give them a better visual range than most other sharks, but there’s a lot more to learn about these distinctive fish than what you may already know.

hammerhead shark

The “hammer” shape of this unique shark’s head is called a cephalofoil.

(photo from Thinkstock)

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FUN FACT The scientific genus name of most hammerhead sharks is Sphyrna, which comes from the Greek word for hammer. Some scientists have theorized that the hammer-like shape of the head may have evolved to enhance the shark’s vision. The hammerhead’s eyes are positioned on the sides of the shark’s flattened “hammer” head, which gives it 360-degree vision — in other words, the hammerhead can see above and below at all times. However, they have a huge blind spot directly in front of their nose.

hammerhead shark

Unlike most sharks, hammerheads mostly swim in schools, sometimes numbering in the hundreds in places like Costa Rica’s Isla del Cocos and the Galapagos. At night, a hammerhead shark usually hunts alone.

Thinkstock

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FUN FACT There are nine species of hammerhead sharks. The great hammerhead is the largest, and typically measures about 13 feet long and weighs about 500 pounds.

hammerhead shark

A hammerhead scans the sand for its favorite meal, the stingray.

Thinkstock

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SAD FACT Sharks are infamous for being labeled as the big, bad monsters of the sea, but there’s a monster out there that’s even more threatening — humans. Hammerheads are at a high risk for extinction because fishermen hunt them for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in some countries. After a hammerhead’s fin is sliced off, the fisherman will toss the creature back into the water. Unable to swim, the shark dies.

hammerhead shark

Hammerheads are found worldwide. They generally prefer warmer waters along coastlines and continental shelves.

Thinkstock

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FUN FACT Hammerheads are found in both shallow and deep water. During summer, you can find large schools migrating to cooler water. Because they often school in shallow water, they are one of the few animals that can actually tan from exposure to the sun.

hammerhead shark

A hammerhead’s belly is white — this allows it to blend into the ocean when viewed from the bottom and enables it to sneak up on its prey.

Thinkstock

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FUN FACT Like all sharks, hammerheads have electroreceptory sensory pores called ampullae of Lorenzini. Because of its unique head shape, the hammerhead can sweep the ocean floor for prey more effectively.

hammerhead shark

Hammerheads trap stingrays by pinning them to the seafloor.

Thinkstock

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FUN FACT Fossil records for most sharks are scant since they do not have mineralized bones. Usually, it is their fossilized teeth alone that are commonly found. According to scientists’ DNA studies, the ancestor of the hammerheads probably lived about 20 million years ago.

hammerhead shark

Reproduction occurs only once a year for hammerhead sharks.

Thinkstock

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FUN FACT A female hammerhead gives birth to live young. A single female can give birth to anywhere from six to 50 pups.

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FECOP Featured On Channel 7 – Tuna for Ticos

FECOP’s Tuna for Ticos Campaign Against Illegal Fishing Featured Today on Channel 7 News

Watch the Video Below to see the impact of illegal fishing first hand

FECOP’s Tuna for Ticos Campaign which is aimed at stopping illegal fishing in Costa Rica was featured today on Channel 7 News Teletica. We hope you’ll watch the following clips depicting video of the impact some of these non-sustainable practices have on Costa Rica’s precious marine resources. This kind of illegal fishing is also harmful to the prosperity of local communities via jobs in the artisanal fishing and the tourism sectors.

Click The Following Image to View The Video

Your Voice is Important – Sign the Tuna for Ticos Petition and help put an end to illegal, non-sustainable fishing practices – Make an Impact!

Dear representatives,

Presidency of the Republic,

Legislative Assembly Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock,

National Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture,

Ministry of Environment and Energy,

Vice Ministry of Water and Seas,

National Coast Guard Service,

The situation of illegal fishing that is happening in our country is a serious problem that affects our marine resources, the national economy and that of our communities.

It is for this reason that through this petition we request better controls and effective surveillance for foreign tuna fleets.

Better penalization mechanisms for those who break the law of our country and exploit our resources indiscriminately.

As well as support and prioritization for national fleets in the consolidation of sustainable tuna fishing in our territorial waters.

I hereby support this cause by registering my information on the following petition.

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Costa Rica’s Marine Resources – Sport Fishing Isn’t The Problem

Reader Not Fond of ‘Torturing Fish’ — but Sport Fishing in Costa Rica isn’t The Problem

By Todd Staley from the Tico Times – Sport Fishing in Costa Rica

Todd Staley FECOPI started doing the fishing column for The Tico in Costa Rica 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.)”

Tuna Persein Fishing in Costa Rica


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 sport fishing is a sustainable activity with catch-and-release practices, commercial fishing is extraction.

A sailfish released by a sport fisherman 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 sport fishermen. 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.

Costa RIca Sailfish worth more alive than dead

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.

Tuna Pursein Fishing

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.

Tuna fishing vessel with dolphin chase boats circles dolphins off the Osa Peninsula

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.

Longlining in Costa Rica

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.

Sea turtle caught in Tuna Net

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.

Shrimp Trawling in Costa Rica

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 wetline “at”hotmail.com

 

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