The collective of more than 300 fishermen of the Costa Rican Pacific called Uniendo Pescadores (Uniting Fishermen) and the Costa Rican environmentalist organization Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas (Pretoma- Marine Turtles Restoration Program) affirm that the intensive fishing being done by tuna boats is killing off the tuna population, and thereby, with the fishing.
Tuna Boat Maria Eulogia, fishing in Garza Beach on November 21st. According to Mathew Jorn, captain of the vessel that filmed the tuna boat, there were close to 100 dolphins eating the tuna, this included baby dolphins as well.
Adolfo Benavidez, vice president of Uniendo Pescadores, said, “There are seasons in which the tuna disappear,” and in general terms, “The population has decreased a lot in the last three years.” For his part, Edgar Castillo, animal behavior specialist who has worked with Pretoma since 2003, agrees that “The greatest problem of Costa Rica isn’t deforestation but rather intensive fishing,” and he adds “Fifty per cent of the country’s forests are already protected, but only one per cent of the Costa Rican seas are protected.” Costa Rican seas encompass 598,000 square kms, ten times more than Costa Rica’s dry land.
However, Luis Dobles, president of the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura (Incopesca – Costa Rican Institute of Fishing and Agriculture), said, “This assessment (of Pretoma) doesn’t have physical support.” Dobles noted that Costa Rica is one of twenty countries belonging to the Convención Interamericana del Atún Tropical (CIAT – Interamerican Tropical Tuna Convention), an organization in charge of assigning “quotas” for the quantity of fish that each country can fish based on scientific studies.
The debate arose because Mathew Jorn, a US citizen who is captain of a sports fishing boat, filmed a tuna boat 30 nautical miles from the coast on November 21 in the waters of Garza Beach, Guanacaste. A neighbor from the area sent the video to various media saying that the tuna boat, named Maria Eulogia, had a Venezuelan flag and that it was not only fishing illegally, but that the boat had been investigated previously for fishing in the protected zone of Isla del Coco.
Costa Rican televisión chain Repretel presented the information given by the Garza neighbor in their nightly edition on November 21 and 23. Dobles responded that the boat changed the nationality of its flag from Venezuelan to Nicaraguan and that it has its fishing permits in order. He also took the opportunity to clarify that Incopesca has incorporated a new system of satellite localization that monitors the tuna boats to ensure that they don’t enter protected zones and undertake illegal activities.
A worldwide problem
It is known that the world tuna populations has diminished considerably and that species like the red tuna of the Atlantic Ocean are suffering from excessive fishing. World wide demand for the fish is driving this increase.
In May of 2009, CIAT acknowledged “The potential production of the resource could be reduced if the fishing efforts are excessive.” As a means of conservation, in effect until 2011, CIAT ordered that all tuna boats should respect the closed periods that prohibit fishing during the reproduction period. However, world ecologists don’t consider this sufficient to solve the problem.
Who can fish tuna?
In spite of the fact that Costa Rica doesn’t have a national fishing fleet, CIAT grants it an annual fishing quota. The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock), based on studies from Incopesca, is the entity that assigns the quotas to companies so they can make contracts with the international tuna boats. The most important relevant national company is Sardimar.
The contracted boats can catch between 600 and 1200 tons of tuna in sixty days. The price of tuna is from $1000 per ton, so the boats would have earnings ranging from $600,000 to $1,200,000 upon disembarking in the private port of Caldera.
The majority of the hotels and restaurants of Nosara and Samara receive their products from venders in Puntarenas. According to Fulvio Soto Tabash, buyer and seller of fish, national skilled fishermen can bring in an average of 300,000 kilograms of tuna every 3 months, which sells at 1700 colones ($3.40) per kilo frozen or 5000 colones ($10) per kilo fresh.
About half of the tuna is sold frozen and the other half fresh, so the total yield for a skilled fisherman is $2000 per disembarkment, 600 times less than the tuna boats.
The growing consumption of tuna – a million-dollar industry
In an article published in August of 2010 by the weekly El Financiero, based on the sales of Sardimar’s enterprise, notes the consumption of tuna is about 12 cans per person per year. Sardimar is the only national manufacturing industry properly registered with Incopesca.
“Tuna represents 0.63 % of Costa Ricans’ basic shopping cart.”
Source Ministerio de Economía (MEIC – Ministry of Economics)
When asked whether a reduction in the amount of tuna being caught or in the tuna population has been noted, Shirley Romero, Sardimar’s manager of social responsibility and corporate communication, responded “According to the latest report of the Comisión Interamericana del Atún Tropical (CIATT- Interamerican Tropical Tuna Commission), the total of yellow tuna caught during this year equals 98.35% of what was caught the previous year. That is to say it can’t be concluded that there’s a relevant change in the fishing volume or in the health of the resource.”
Sardimar not only supplies the majority of the internal market of Costa Rica, but also imports to more than 30 countries, including the United States, Europe, Canada and Mexico. In 2008 alone, Sardimar registered $74 million for consumption in Costa Rica, 30% more than in 2007.
To continue fishing
Although independent scientific studies from CIAT have already been published that predict the likely overfishing of the central Pacific, both Incopesca and Sardimar believe that physical evidence doesn’t exist for this conclusion. “Our production hasn’t decreased. The contrary is the case,” assured Romero referring to the production of canned tuna.
So all those who enjoy eating a healthy rice with tuna, at a reasonable price, can continue doing so in the immediate future. At least, that’s what Sardimar assures us.
Thanks to the early rejection of American consumers and later the united of European consumers, in 1992 the so-called “Dolphin safe” measure was created to ensure that dolphins aren’t killed during tuna fishing.
Dolphins and tuna tend to eat together since both feed on sardines or mackerels, the tuna eating from underneath and the dolphin from the sides of the school. CIAT, which adopted the regulations of “Dolphin safe,” is in charge of assigning and paying a biologist who, traveling with the tuna boats, acts as an inspector to assure that no dolphins are killed.
But Miguel Gómez, Campaign Coordinator for Pretoma, says “The fishermen of Puntarenas inform us that they are killing dolphins.” He added that the only mission of the biologist inspectors “is to see that they don’t kill dolphins, not that they don’t fish within protected waters nor that they don’t kill turtles.”
Incopesca argued in defense that the index of dolphin deaths in Costa Rica is the lowest in history, reaching 0.01%.