What happened to all the stingrays?

Sting rays are relatives of sharks, and they offer up a nasty sting (hence the name) that will ruin the rest of your day at the beach. But while this might make you a little leery about wadding in the water, it’s no reason to go out and kill off all the stingrays, right?

If you don’t like sting rays, you should consider visiting Tarcoles, Costa Rica. You see, almost all the rays are gone. A miracle, you say? No, just man’s uncanny ability to effectively eradicate the animals from the area over the course of (50 years, 100 years, millennia??)——-3 years.

So what happened?

Piles of dead rays waiting to be processed--Foto: ARAP

A few years ago, small scale artisanal fishermen from Coopetarcoles, the “sustainable” fishing cooperative located along Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, got wind of a growing stingray market. And since the cooperative’s code of good fishing practices said nothing about ray fishery catch limits and closures, its members had a field day with the animals. In 2005 they brought in 8,500 kilograms. In 2006 their catches precipitously dropped to 1000 kg. In 2007, with the ray market sill hungry for more, Coopetarcoles responded with less than 500 kg. And in 2008 the word “stingray” was officially removed from the town’s lexicon.

You see, it took a fishery, one steeped in arguable the country’s most responsible fishing practices, less than 3 years to destroy the local ray population.     

But at least everyone got rich, right??

Graph detailing stingray catch totals: Taken from Lourdes Amador's Masters thesis

Stingray isn’t exactly a highly coveted seafood delicacy like blue fin tuna (one sold earlier this month for $177,000 in Japan) or swordfish, or Patagonian tooth fish (Chilean sea bass). Nope.  Those rays fetched $0.25/kg. Yep, $2,500 was all the money it took to effectively destroy a portion of the stingray population in Costa Rica.

In all fairness to the fishermen of Coopetarcoles, they do uphold an impressive set of fishing standards. And while it’s safe to say they’ve learned their lesson, that won’t bring the stingrays back any time soon.

For more information on Coopetarcoles and how you can get involved in improving this fishery, please call (506) 2637-0210
Or visit their website at: http://www.coopetarcoles.org/

5 Responses to “What happened to all the stingrays?”
  1. Unbelievable Andy! I had no idea there was even a market for stingrays! So sad to hear this story and how they have been wiped out from that area!

  2. Alejandro Garcia Lozano says:

    Hi Andy,

    I am currently working on a thesis on fisheries and marine protected area management in this region, and although it is centered on political theory, I would love to see this study. Do you know where I could access Lourdes Amador’s thesis?

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