San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Legislators Discuss Proposed Fishing Law

A bill that would update Costa Rica’santiquated and virtually unenforceablefishing law has finally arrived to the floorof the Legislative Assembly, its approvalurged by environmental organizations butslowed by objections from somedeputies.Portions of Costa Rica’s current fishinglaw, passed in 1948, were declared unconstitutionalin 1995 because penalties for violatingthe law were not defined clearly enough.Since then, the country has remained withoutenforceable fishing regulations.The new law would allow for a penaltyof up to two years in prison for personsconvicted of unloading shark fins withoutthe bodies attached at Costa Rican ports –definitively outlawing the lucrative practiceof “shark finning.”THE lack of regulations has made iteasier for foreign long-line fishing vesselsto unload literally tons of shark fins withoutthe bodies attached, to be exported andsold on the Asian market for up to $200 akilogram. In what it called an effort to controlthe practice, the government adoptedregulations that limited the percentage ofshark product unloaded at Costa Ricandocks to 7-16% fins. Opponents of themeasure claimed it only encouraged fishermento simply discard the carcasses oflarger sharks they caught (TT, Oct. 10,2003).According to a study conducted by theCosta Rican Sea Turtle RestorationProgram (PRETOMA), the practice ofshark finning has resulted in a 60%decrease in the shark populations in CostaRican waters during the past 10 years (TT,June 18).LEGISLATIVE deputies have discussedupdating the fishing law since 1998,but it was not until 2002 that the current billwas written. When it was finally brought tothe floor for the first time last year, deputiesfound the text too technical to allow for aproductive discussion, according to MarcelaVargas, a representative of the non-governmentalAssociation Marviva.It was then the assembly named the“Mixed Inter-Institutional Coastal MarineCommission,” comprised of Costa Ricangovernment officials as well as representativesof non-governmental organizations,said Vargas, who is a member of the commission.Vargas said the commission – whichincludes members of the Costa RicanFishing and Aquaculture Institute (INCOPESCA)– worked for a period of eightmonths, and in October 2003 presented 40motions to modify certain aspects of the bill.She said the motions have been incorporatedinto the text of the current bill.As of press time yesterday, no decisionon the law had been announced.THE 40-page bill would outlaw some20 different fishing practices and giveINCOPESCA the power to recommendpenalties for violators ranging from steepfines to years in prison.For example, anyone caught fishing inCosta Rican waters without a license couldface a fine of between 40 and 60 times astandard base monthly salary as defined byCosta Rican law.The proposed law would also providefor more strict regulation to ensure the useof Turtle Exclusion Devices (TEDs). TEDshave proven effective in preventing seaturtles from being inadvertently capturedand subsequently drowning in fishermen’snets, but many fishermen complain thedevices are cumbersome and affect catches,and so do not use them frequently.The proposed law has received the supportof the PRETOMA, the AssociationMarviva and the Association for thePreservation of Wild Flora and Fauna(APREFLOFAS).“THE new fishing law includes measuresof management and conservation thatpromises to have very positive effects inthe long run, for the fishing industry thatwants to make use of marine resources in asustainable manner, as well as for thespecies of marine life threatened withextinction,” said Randall Arauz, presidentof PRETOMA, in a statement.The law has received some criticism,particularly from members of theLibertarian Movement Party.Peter Guevara, brother of former presidentialcandidate Otto Guevara and theLibertarian deputy charged with handlingthe fishing law for the party, said certainaspects of the bill are worrisome because“they open the door to corruption.”He said the law gives INCOPESCA toomuch authority to impose hefty fines, whichcould encourage functionaries of the agencyto use such power for personal gain.“I am in agreement with the law,”Guevara said. “What worries me is that thesanctions are rather excessive.”MARVIVA, PRETOMA and APREFLOFASrepresentatives, however, said ina statement that the project to update thefishing law has been held up by “legislativepractices that are being used to delaythe discussion of this project.”“We are monitoring this situation veryclosely,” Vargas said. “If this doesn’t pass,we are going to continue without control inour seas.”

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