San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Getting to the bottom of fishing sustainably in Costa Rica

Capt. Donald McGuinness studies his color fish-finder at the helm of the Typhoon, co-captained by Darren McClave. He isn’t looking for rocks or pinnacles, but rather a “Swiss cheese” type structure, a flat rock with holes in it. The red line on the screen tells him he is over hard bottom. The fish-finder indicates he is in 236 feet of water, and now and then a blue fleck appears above the red line. When a series of blue flecks appears in unison, he stops the boat.

Angler Terry White drops his bait downward. The tide is nearly slack, so it takes only 6 ounces of weight to carry the live goggle-eye to the bottom. Almost immediately the rod tip does a drumroll and then doubles over. Twenty-five minutes later, White wins the tug-of-war, and a 72-pound grouper rises to the surface.

According to McGuinness, you are wasting your time looking for big grouper in less than 180 feet of water. He will sometimes fish as deep as 500 feet with conventional tackle. He doesn’t fish pinnacles or seamounts, saying, “They are great for snapper fishing but won’t hold many big grouper.”

McGuinness is a second-generation fisherman who grew up on the Golfo Dulce, on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. His father was born in Costa Rica, moved to the United Sates at age 13, returned at age 22, married a local girl, and fished. McGuinness learned to fish from his father and has cast in the gulf’s waters for nearly half a century. He is as comfortable fishing on a little johnboat in the mangroves for corvina and snook as he is at the wheel of the 62-foot Typhoon. A DNA sample of his blood would surely say he is somehow related to a fish.

He is also one of the few people I know who can successfully wear two hats. A sportfisherman, he is president of the local sportfishing group and also executive director of Fenopea, a federation made up of the seven associations of small-scale commercial fishermen who fish the gulf.

Over the years, McGuinness became concerned about the dwindling populations of fish in the area’s waters. In 2009, he and Miguel Durán, an inspector with the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca), started a conservation project that eventually led to the Golfo Dulce last November being declared the largest “responsible fishing area” in Central America. They accomplished this by getting all the different user groups – including shrimpers, gillnetters, small-scale bottom fishermen and sportfishing groups – to sit down at the same table and agree to modify their fishing practices and tools in order to work in a more sustainable manner.

Meanwhile, up the coast at Malpaís on the Nicoya Peninsula, Demian Geneau was opening his first seafood delicatessen and retail store, Product c, with his brother Stephane and sister Samantha (TT, Jan. 9, 2009). As executive chef at Santa Teresa’s Florblanca Hotel for seven years, Geneau had become frustrated at the lack of availability of fresh seafood in Costa Rica.

“I’m in a country with two beautiful oceans on either side, and I could not buy fresh tuna for the restaurant because all of it was being exported out of the country,” Geneau says.

So, he became a seafood distributor, opening his first store in Malpaís and a second location last year in Santa Ana in the Central Valley. Product c specializes in live lobster and oysters as well as fresh seafood that has never been frozen. The oysters – Chilean seedlings cultivated on the Nicoya Peninsula by Costa Rican marine biologist Alexandra Peralta – are handpicked by Geneau and driven to his stores in tanks. Customers can buy fresh seafood to take home or enjoy it prepared fresh at the store.

Now, Geneau has partnered with Costa Rican businessmen Sergio Jiménez and Norman De Pass and is constructing a third Product c location in the western San José suburb of Escazú. Like the other locations, the new store will specialize in sustainably caught, fresh seafood products.

McGuinness and Geneau met each other for the first time recently down on the Golfo Dulce, McGuinness looking for a way to help small-scale fishermen market their products and Geneau looking for sustainably caught products to buy. Incopesca’s Durán was also present.

With the Golfo Dulce now a responsible fishing area, McGuinness says, “the shrimp trawlers are gone, almost all the netters are now fishing hand lines, and all bottom longlines are limited and must be worked by hand.”

“This is fantastic news for the resource and for sportfishing,” McGuinness adds. “But we can’t forget the sacrifice these guys made. … [They] are now catching less fish [and] they all have families to care for.”

Geneau and his partners toured the Golfo Dulce, visiting several commercial fishing boats as well as the processing plant at Pavones. With a few minor changes in logistics, Product c and the small-scale commercial fishermen could have a relationship that benefits all parties, resulting in a brighter future for the Golfo Dulce for a long time to come.

Product c seafood delicatessens ( are located at Playa Carmen commercial center in Malpaís, and 100 meters north of the Red Cross in Santa Ana.

Now, I have a question. One of the best seafood dishes in Costa Rica is pargo entero, or whole snapper. It is available in the finest restaurants and at the smallest neighborhood soda. I want to know who makes the best pargo entero in the country. You can cast your vote in the appropriate section of The Tico Times’ online fishing forum ( or e-mail me at

Skippers, operators and anglers are invited to e-mail fishing reports by Wednesday of each week to or, or call in reports to Dan Wise at 8816-2882.

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