Artisanal fishers fight to establish first of its kind sustainable fishing area

by | Feb 17, 2014

The following article was translated from the original that appeared in Costa Rica’s La Nacion newspaper on February 15, 2014.  Click here to view the original article.

“It’s ¢15.000 for gas, ¢15.000 for bait, plus ¢10.000 for someone to prepare and bait the line.  The total expense of each fishing trip is ¢40.000 colones”.

Amado Quirós adds up his next fishing trip’s expenses while his son, Luis Fernando, prepares the bait and his wife, Irene Alvarado, slides the chunks of anchoy onto each hook.

They have yet to leave the dock and the Quirós Alvarado family is already in debt.  In order to recoup it, their son must catch 25 kilos of spotted rose snapper, a species with one of the highest domestic market values.

Fifteen years ago, fish were abundant in the waters between Punta Coyote and Punta Islita, along the Northern Pacific coast were Quirós’ small boat operates.

In those days, fish were good sized and it only took six hours of work, done close to shore, to catch the 25 kilo “debt”.

Today, things are different.  It will take Luis Fernando twelve hours to catch that much, if he’s lucky.

Fishing is not the same as it was before in the communities of Nandayure, Guanacaste.  For this reason, locals have started to see conservation efforts as a tool to halt resource over exploitation and a means to economic survival in an area dependent on the sea.

This is the intent behind the proposal to create Los Pargos (the snappers) marine managed area, a 23, 214 hectare triangle whose waters are book ended between the Caletas-Arío and Camaronal wildlife refuges.

The Association of Bejuco Fishers (ASOBEJUCO) and the Association of Punta Coyote Fishers (ASPEPUCO) initiated the process with the support of PRETOMA and the financial backing of the Sustainable Fisheries Fund and Conservation International (CI).

Sustainable fishing.  “Close the triangle”, as the proposal is called, would guarantee the protection of four sea turtle species that nest on the area’s beaches and recuperate fish populations including jacks, sea bass, and snappers, as well as others that the Quirós survives on.

Fishers submitted their proposal to the Tempisque Conservation Area (ACT), the management entity responsible for this region, where it is currently under review.

The area’s management plan would regulate fishing gear types, species capture, and fishing zones where activity is allowed to occur.

According to Randall Arauz, PRETOMA’s director, the area fishers have experience in the development of management plans because of their prior participation in the design of Caletas-Arío and Camaronal.

Along with this, PRETOMA biologists have been working with artisanal fishers since 2007 to collect catch data in order to understand fish population trends and to formulate management decisions.

On board the fishing boats, they record the GPS positions of the first and last hooks placed in the water, depths, total number or hooks used, and the bait used.

During landings back at the dock, they sample a portion of the total catch for fish lengths, weights, and reproductive stages.

“The data allows us to calculate the catch per unit of effort, growth curves, as well as identify what species are in certain areas and their reproductive seasons”, explained Erick López, PRETOMA researcher.

According to Quirós, the locally used bottom longline is a line unto which many smaller lines are tied, each with a hook on its end.  The line is fed out and sinks to the sandy sea floor at depths of 20 meters.

More than 60% of the total catch is snapper, and according to Arauz, sea turtle captures are reduced because lines are set at night.

“It’s a very focused fishery and little is wasted because much of the catch is reused as bait”, said Arauz.

“Junk”, a term given to fish that are not being directly targeted, are fileted and sold in nearby restaurants.  “It doesn’t have as much economic value as snapper, but it’s always sold somewhere and the idea is to begin a process where more hotels and restaurants offer it”, said López.

The two fishing associations are involved in an international certification assessment though the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

“We want to be the first certified fishery in Latin America”, said Arauz.

“A certification would allow for fishers to sell their products to hotels, allowing these establishments to also promote their own cases for sustainability according to the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) by serving certified fish”, said López.

The MSC’s pre-evaluation pointed out that the need for the fishery to show how it will meet sustainability standards by controlling  the presence of outside fisheries, like shrimp trawls, from targeting the local snapper stock.

“If the idea is to close the triangle, we have to be fair and regulate the artisanal fishers as well, so they don’t use gill nets and spear guns with compressor tanks”, said Miriam Vargas from ASOBEJUCO.

A resource rich area.  The creation of a marine managed area would pave the way for other economic options for these fishers.  According to Arauz, there are plans to dedicate a boat to tourism efforts in the form of sport fishing tours.  In Coyote there would be a lunch counter where the fish would be cooked.

Because sea turtles would be better protected, communities could organize in order to patrol nesting beaches, and offer turtle hatching tours.  Providing rooms and meals could also figure into the mix.

Tourism would also allow fishers to rely on a different industry and no solely on fishing, therefor allowing fish populations to recover.

“With the creation of the marine managed area, significant changes would be seen in as little as eight years”, explained Arauz.

Even though he left at 5 p.m., the fisherman Luis Fernando Quiros returned thirteen hours later at 6 a.m. the next day.

After a thirteen hour trip that saw him set two 1,500 meter long lines with 500 hooks on each one, Quirós caught 25 kilos of spotted snapper.

Catching just enough to cover his expenses, his hope is that “closing the triangle” will bring some sort of earnings.Pescadores artesanales luchan por primera zona de pesca sostenible

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