Fishermen Seek Changes to Law

January 13, 2006

HUNDREDS of mostly small-scale commercial fishermen from the northwestern province of Guanacaste who seek modifications to the country s Fishing Law to allow limited fishing in protected marine areas have obtained the support of the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE).

 

Some 350 fishermen and their supporters last week protested in the streets leading to the provincial capital of Liberia.

 

Edwin Solano, general manager of the Guanacaste Fishermen s Chamber, said the protest, during which fishermen waved posters reading Sustainability with hunger will not last, was meant to draw the government s attention to the fishermen s plight since the Legislative Assembly approved a law prohibiting fishing in protected marine areas early last year (TT, Feb. 18, 2005).

 

The prohibition meant an end to fishing in the marine areas of the Guanacaste national parks of Santa Rosa and Las Baulas since April 2005, when the law took effect, Solano said.

 

There is no place to fish, he said, explaining that fishermen, who profit mostly from the area s snapper and cabrilla populations, have been left with no option but to commit imprudent actions.

 

According to Solano, fishermen from approximately eight fishing vessels have been arrested for fishing in those two protected areas.

 

Although the fishermen have been released, they now face judicial processes that could result in large fines, amounting to the equivalent of 20-30 minimum-wage salaries and the cancellation of their fishing license if found guilty, Solano said.

 

GUANACASTE fishermen sought the support of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) to obtain greater access to fish inside national parks, however, the institute has not defended their interests, Solano said.

 

Marvin Mora, INCOPESCA technical director, denied this. He said the institute supports the fishermen, but endorses sustainable fishing.

 

If the resource is extinguished they will be faced with a serious problem; he said, adding that you cannot kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

 

He said the institute has contributed to elaboration of a proposal to modify Article 9 of the Fishing Law, which prohibits fishing in protected areas.

 

DURING the Jan. 5 protest, which lasted most of the day, fishermen affiliated with the Guanacaste Fishermen s Chamber traveled very slowly in vehicles from Playas del Coco, a popular beach destination, and La Cruz, a town near the northern border, to Liberia.

 

After purposely slowing traffic from these towns to the Guanacaste capital, they met Environment Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez at the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, where he promised to assist them in their struggle.

 

Rodríguez, who told The Tico Times MINAE was the first to oppose Article 9 of the Fishing Law, introduced a proposal in the agenda at this week s government Cabinet meeting to publish a decree that would modify the article.

 

The proposal might be addressed during next week s Cabinet meeting, because there was not enough time to get to it this week, Rodríguez explained.

 

The minister said that rather than a general law prohibiting fishing in all protected areas, each national park should evaluate how fishing can be practiced in a sustainable fashion within its boundaries, and outline that in its management plan.

 

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