Costa Rica’s greatest fisheries observer has more stories to tell
Allan Bolaños is back!! The Pretoma fisheries observer returned this week from his third longline voyage where he’s been testing a modified fishing hook.
The hook is designed in the traditional “J” style but has an extra steel cable attached to the underside of its curved portion. Pulling on the cable causes the hook to rotate in a circular motion, allowing fishermen to more easily yank it out of the animal’s mouth. Where an animals body weight causes a conventional hook to stay embedded in the animal, the rotation of the new hook when pulled changes its angle and uses the animal’s body weight to pull it free.
Where fishermen once had to haul unwanted animals with no commercial value (referred to as bycatch) aboard their vessels and cut the hook out of the animals mouths or eyes, or fins, or whatever body part the steel was imbedded in – both killing the animal and wasting valuable fishing time – they can now pull the extra steel cord and set the animal free.
During his 3 voyages aboard Costa Rican longline fishing boats, Bolaños has documented how the new hook is comparable to the old design in its effectiveness to catch fish, but vastly superior when it comes to freeing bycatch like sea turtles and sting rays.
With fish stocks dwindling, it’s common practice for Costa Rican longline captains to head into what are considered the more pleantiful Panamanian waters to fish. What Bolaños was not prepared for this time out was just how far his captain would take him. The voyages ended up in Columbian waters, evidence of just how far away from home modern fishermen are willing to travel to make a living.
This third journey, (see Shark Finning out of Control in Costa Rica for a report on the previous two), also saw the crew targeting shark populations and practicing shark “finning”. Bolaños, who has spent a major portion of his adult life as an environmental activist involved in campaigns against finning, has no say while aboard a longliner. He is allowed unlimited freedom to test his hooks, take measurements, and record other data; however, what and how the crew catches is their own business. Forced to watch as shark after shark is hauled aboard and finned, he’s awarded a cruel but unique opportunity to document the practice.
His reward comes when a critically endangered leatherback sea turtle becomes snagged on one of his modified hooks and the crew is able to save both the animal and their fishing gear rather than killing it to retrieve their hook and line.
Watch as an endangered leatherback sea turtle is set free by the crew using one of Bolaños’ modified hooks: