PAVONES – Local opposition to the construction of a tuna farm near the mouth of the Golfo Dulce is growing fast.
Members of nearby communities, along with local and national organizations, gathered by the hundreds here on Sunday to protest the Granjas Atuneras, S.A. project three weeks after the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET) dismissed the Marine Turtle and Restoration Program’s (PRETOMA) complaints about the project.
At the center of the “Save the Golfo Dulce Festival” was a petition circulated by PRETOMA, which collected 704 signatures. PRETOMA officials personally delivered the 30-page appeal to the office of President Oscar Arias on Wednesday.
“Our organization joins forces with these communities in their call for you…to newly suspend the execution (of the tuna farm) as long as it doesn’t comply with the stipulations of the Supreme Court (Sala IV),” the petition reads.
Although yet to be constructed, the proposed farm already has a long legal history, and this is not the first time a suspension of the project has been requested.
Based on PRETOMA’s initial lawsuit, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) suspended the project in 2007 until the Environment Ministry’s Technical Secretariat (SETENA) sought out an independent source to conduct “the necessary technical studies” (TT Nov. 21, 2008). One of PRETOMA’s many concerns was that gulf currents would carry large amounts of fish excrement into the gulf and choke the area’s ecosystem.
SETENA asked the University of Costa Rica’s Ocean Science and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR) for “technical criteria” regarding the tuna farm, which CIMAR completed in 11 days. CIMAR did not conduct any studies of the Golfo Dulce for the report, and CIMAR director Alvaro Morales said a specific study of the impact of the proposed farm on the gulf is not what SETENA requested. “They wanted technical criteria, not a study. We gave them technical criteria,” Morales said.
Morales noted that in order to best assess the environmental impact of the project, a Golfo Dulce-specific study should be conducted. He said such a study would be a long term and more expensive process, something that CIMAR’s report explicitly states.
Nonetheless, SETENA suggested on Nov. 6, 2008 that the project continue, based on CIMAR’s report and other internal studies. Accepting SETENA’s recommendation, MINAET rejected PRETOMA’s arguments against the project on April 30 of this year.
Morales admitted that he thought SETENA used the CIMAR report out of context, but said “if SETENA wants to use it in that way, that’s their issue.”
Despite numerous phone calls, SETENA officials did not respond to questions by press time.
PRETOMA’s petition concludes that a study which “determines with a high level of certainty” the environmental impact of the farm has not been done. “For this, we don’t accept the decision of (MINAET’s) interim minister, Jorge Rodríguez.”
Now that the project is only a ship crane’s swing away from commencement, locals who depend on the water’s pura naturaleza are worried about the possible environmental impact and the economic consequences that could follow construction of the farm. Víctor Rocha, president of the National Artesanal Fishing Federation, is afraid contamination from the farm will negatively affect fishing yields. The area where Granjas Atuneras, S.A. plans to build the tuna farm is a rich fishing ground for red snapper, one of the gulf ’s most popular catches.
Rocha noted that many of the fishermen lead fishing tours for foreigners who visit the area. For a four-hour tour, a visitor pays around $300 to the local fisherman.
“The contamination, plus the loss of fishing grounds, would be horrible for us,” Rocha said. “We have to travel out far enough as it is to fish, and gas isn’t cheap.”
Patricia Arce, executive director of the National Chamber of Seafood Exporters, said there is a large market for tuna, although very little is consumed in Costa Rica.
“Most of the tuna from this farm would be for export,” she said. Arce speculated most of the tuna would be sent to Asia, where much of the world’s tuna is consumed.
As for jobs, Arce said the company could build a processing plant on shore which could provide opportunities to locals. Although Pavones and its neighboring communities don’t appear to have the infrastructure to support a processing plant, Arce said that Golfito or Puerto Jiménez, the area’s larger towns, could be options for the facility.
Since Granjas Atuneras is a foreign company which would be producing tuna largely for export, locals don’t believe that they would be the ones hired for the jobs, but Arce said that is “up to the company.”
Attempts by The Tico Times to reach Granjas Atuneras, S.A. were unsuccessful by press time.