Coast Guard apprehends shrimp trawler illegally fishing in wildlife refuge protected area
On the night of Wednesday February 8, 2017 Coast Guard officials from San Francisco de Coyote captured the shrimp trawler Monarca illegally fishing inside the Camaronal Wildlife Refuge’s Marine Protected Area located on the Nicoya Peninsula on the country’s Northern Pacific coast. Officials towed the vessel to Puntarenas and confiscated the catch which consisted of shrimp and other fish species, many of which were smaller than the minimum size limits established by Costa Rica’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Institute (INCOPESCA). A second shrimp trawler, the Ana Lourdes, was also observed operating a quarter of a mile outside the refuge’s protected area.
It is illegal for shrimp trawlers to operate inside the Camaronal Marine Protected Area because of the environmental damage their nets cause to hundreds of fish species, as well as corals, when their nets are drug through the water and along the ocean floor. Aside from the ecosystem impacts, the socio-economic effects from shrimp trawling are devastating to the artisanal fishing communities of Bejuco and San Francisco de Coyote located outside of the refuge.
“Our community survives on legally fishing spotted rose snapper,” said Miriam Vargas, president of the Bejuco Fishing Association ASOBEJUCO, “but these shrimp trawlers come here illegally and since they’ve already fished-out all the shrimp, they steal the snapper from us, even the little ones that are not big enough to be sold,” continued Vargas.
Because of the environmental and economic problems that result from Costa Rica’s trawl fishery, the Constitutional Court ruled in August 2013 that its operation was illegal (2013-010540) and ordered it to be phased out by 2019 if it could not be made sustainable. In response to this, the trawl industry and INCOPESCA have presented a bill called the Law for Sustainable Development and Use of Shrimp in Costa Rica that demonstrates how the industry can be managed sustainably.
“If I was a shrimp trawl captain concerned with the sustainability of my industry, I would not illegally fish in protected areas,” said Andy Bystrom, Executive Director of the Costa Rican environmental organization ARCAE. “But this blatant act of defiance by the trawl industry clearly shows that its members will never have the discipline to abide by the law, let alone fish sustainably,” continued Bystrom.