FISHERMEN on the central Pacific coast blocked one of the country’s most important ports yesterday because the government has not approved their requests, including the immediate dismissal of Ligia Castro, head of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA), according to Gerardo Marín, president of the Independent Fishermen’s Union in the Pacific port of Puntarenas.
The blockade started with hopes that the government might respond, however, if it didn’t, fishermen planned to continue today.
Yesterday at noon, owners of more than 24 large and small vessels blocked the port of Puntarenas, and Eduardo Espinoza, executive director of the Puntarenas Fishermen’s Chamber, said they planned to prevent a cruise ship filled with tourists from docking in Puntarenas today.
As added pressure to their demands, fishermen from the neighboring port of Caldera, as well as Quepos and Golfito, two other Pacific port cities farther south, stood ready to block those docks at press time, while in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, fishermen support the protest but will not join in, according to Edwin Solano, general manager of the Guanacaste Fishermen’s Chamber.
SEVERAL hundred fishermen and their supporters protested in Liberia, Guanacaste’s capital, earlier this month, requesting that Article 9 of the country’s Fishing Law, which bans fishing in marine protected areas, be modified to allow limited fishing in protected areas (TT, Jan. 13).
Fishermen scratched this item from this week’s protest because during President Abel Pacheco’s Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Environment Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez presented a proposal to modify the Article 9 to allow some fishing in protected areas according to each national park’s management plan.
With the support of Pacheco and his ministers, it was agreed that the changes to the law will be presented to the Legislative Assembly, where they may be studied as soon as lawmakers return to work after the upcoming presidential election on Feb. 5.
FISHERMEN now are focusing on demanding “Ligia Castro’s head” because of the gas tax, Espinoza told The Tico Times.
INCOPESCA charges ¢2.85 ($0.006) tax per liter of fuel, an amount that rose from ¢1.00 ($0.002) in the past two years, and adds up if you multiply it by 80,000 liters, for instance, Espinoza said.
He explained that INCOPESCA had promised to eliminate this tax, charged on fuel subsidized by the government, in December, but proceeded to raise it by ¢0.30 this month.
INCOPESCA press officer Hugo Solano said the Comptroller General’s Office requests these raises to keep up with inflation, and INCOPESCA charges this tax to pay personnel who manage the paperwork related to the fishermen’s fuel subsidy.
FISHERMEN in Costa Rica purchase fuel for much less than the price it is sold at gas stations. While one liter of diesel costs ¢318 (approximately $0.65) at gas stations, fishermen pay ¢217.50 (approximately $0.45) per liter.
“No other working sector in Costa Rica enjoys these benefits,” Solano said. According to Solano, it is unlikely that the administration will heed the fishermen’s demands and fire Castro so close to the end of President Pacheco’s term.
“Besides, she is standing by what she says and abiding by the law. They (fishermen) have always asked for the dismissal of INCOPESCA heads; they requested it some six times during the last administration,” Solano added.