Cooperation in Costa Rica Offers Hope for Protecting Fisheries

Fisheries interests in Costa Rica are working together in unprecedented ways to protect and sustainably use fishery resources.

Costa Rica tuna

Costa Rica tuna

The economic benefits from healthy yellowfin tuna fisheries luring anglers like this one to Costa Rica can be enormous.Doug Olander

For the first time all fishing sectors are working together on a common goal in Costa Rica. To have more fish so everyone can work in harmony. Nearly 100,000 people depend on commercial and sport fishing to maintain their families and each year there are less and less fish to go around. After years of throwing rocks at each other, the commercial and sport fishing began meeting to discuss ways to make and honest living while using the resources in a sustainable manner.

What the meetings disclosed is there is a severe “Domino Effect” happening in Costa Rica waters. Costa Rica is a Central American country about the size of West Virginia, but its territorial waters are 11 times greater than its terrestrial boundaries. The commercial fishing fleet claims the root of the problem is the foreign tuna purse seine boats operating in Costa Rican waters. Their claim is the tuna boats are taking the majority of fish and the illegal use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD’s) are causing the loss of juvenile target species like dorado (dolphinfish) requiring them to seek species of lesser value like billfish just to make expenses.

The Federacion Costarricense de Pesca (FECOP), - Costa Rica’s Sport Fishing lobby embarked on a study of the situation. Headed by Enrique Ramirez Executive Director, biologists Priscilla Cubero and David Maritinez dissected 10 years of data supplied by the International Tropical Tuna Commission. 16,626 lances of purse seine activity were analyzed. Only 27% had reported data on bycatch, but the figure was 1,373 metric tons of fish other than tuna discarded dead back into the ocean.

In that 10 year period, 253,000 metric tons of tuna were taken by foreign purse seiners, which accounts for 90% of all tuna caught in Costa Rica during that period. Less than 20% of that catch was unloaded in Costa Rica. The average economic benefit to the country was just $37 for a ton of tuna. While Panama is promoting tourism with their claim that no tuna purse boats are allowed to fish Panamanian waters, several Panamanian tuna boats are working Costa Rica waters. Costa Rica does not have a purse seine fleet.

The National Commercial Fishing Sector and FECOP have held several public forums about the tuna fishing situation in the country. “Our goal is to create a favorable climate to promote fishing regulations in Costa Rica. Non-selective fishing methods, like purse-seine nets have, reduced fishing production by 50% in the last decade and threatens dozens of species of fish and marine mammals,” explained Ramirez. The next step is to convince the government to give the tuna fishery back to Costa Rican fisherman to harvest them in a more sustainable manner. The commercial and sport fishing groups have agreed to work together on a long term plan to reduce the bycatch of billfish.

FECOP was formed in 2009 by a handful of fisherman and has grown to over 20,000 supporters of responsible fishing. Their first accomplishment was to stop the exportation of sailfish in 2009 and later created the largest Marine Area of Responsible Fishing in Central America, the Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica. Their recipe of success is not to just say no but to teach commercial fishermen alternatives. Shrimp boats and gill nets are no longer allowed in the gulf and with the help of FECOP, fishermen are now also working on cultivating oysters and the marketing of sustainable caught fish. More information can be found at