A patrol boat for the ocean conservation group MarViva was allegedly surrounded by fishing boats and harassed as it attempted to remove apparently illegal nets from the ocean last week.
The patrol was responding to a report of 10 boats fishing within the protected waters of the Isla del Coco National Park, according to a statement released Wednesday by MarViva.
MarViva’s boat, named MarViva 1, began removing fishing nets from the waters at 7 a.m. on June 4. The patrol found 22 dead tuna and five dead sharks in the nets, as well as 22 live yellowfin tuna, a live hammerhead shark and a live marlin, according to the MarViva statement.
At 2 p.m., three boats identified as La Marisol, Albatroz and Vigol II, and a fourth unidentified boat, surrounded the MarViva patrol.
Crews on the boats shouted insults at the MarViva crew and intentionally passed over the lines they were pulling from the water, the statement said. CostaRicanNationalCoast Guard officials riding along on the patrol ordered the ships away through radio and a loudspeaker, but were ignored.
“I had to fire two shots into the water because they were insulting us and coming very close,” said Manuel Monge, a coast guard official on the patrol.
“We normally collect the fishing lines, and even though the fishers are relatively close, they don’t say that (the fishing lines) are theirs because they would be recognizing that they are illegally fishing in a protected area, but this time they were right on top of us,” said Stalin Canales, the captain of MarViva 1.
Weak fishing laws and scant government patrols have left the waters inside the Isla del Coco national park largely unprotected, with the MarViva patrols one of the only regular patrols in the area.
MarViva had considered canceling the patrols, which rely on private donations, after a tuna fisher with nearly 250 metric tons of yellowfin tuna was caught with its nets in the water, and the courts released its entire 23-man crew (TT, June 6).
The organization’s regional director, Jorge Jiménez, estimated MarViva spent $40,000 on the patrol that caught the tuna fisher, and the captain is facing a maximum penalty of about $28,000.
In April,MarViva and the Prosecutor’s Office submitted a bill to the Legislative Assembly that would reform Costa Rica’s Fishing Law to increase penalties for illegal fishers.
The three boats from last week’s incident belong to fishers from the Pacific port town of Puntarenas, identified by the last names Acosta, Pereira and Báez. It is unclear if they will face charges.