San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Government says no to industrial tuna farms

The Environment Ministry’s National Technical Secretariat (SETENA) put the brakes on an industrial tuna farming operation last week slated for construction at the mouth of Costa Rica’s southern Golfo Dulce, formed by the Osa Peninsula.

SETENA finally put to rest the question of plans by Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. to build floating tuna pens off the Pacific coast, based on an order from the Supreme Court citing apparently falsified information in the company’s environmental impact studies, according to a statement by the Marine Turtle Restoration Program, or Pretoma.

Additionally, Granjas Atuneras de Golfito’s authorizations to build the pens, issued in 2004 and 2008, had expired.

“A lot of people worked to stop the tuna farms,” said Andy Bystrom, a Pretoma consultant. “On behalf of residents of the Golfo Dulce, the Association Against the Tuna Farms of Pavones, lawyers and many more, we would like to applaud SETENA’s decision to stop this project.”

The project would have created 10 floating cages approximately 1.5 kilometers off the Pacific coast, where yellowfin tuna caught by nearby fishing boats would be stored and fed imported, congealed sardines to fatten them up for sale. The farms, according to SETENA’s description of the project, would be capable of producing as much as 360 metric tons of tuna for sale per year. The tuna would be decapitated and gutted on boats at the farm site before being shipped to a processing plant at the southern Pacific port city of Golfito, and then on, via refrigerated trucks, to the Juan Santamaría International Airport outside San José for export.

Opposition to the project, which had been grinding through the wheels of bureaucracy since 2004, focused on biological waste generated by the farms and their proximity to sea turtle nesting areas. Massive amounts of tuna excrement generated by the farms, according to Pretoma, could have had potentially adverse affects on water quality, local beaches that are important for surfing and ecotourism, and local non-farmed fish populations. Nearby beaches include Playa Carate, a well-known surfing break, and the coastline of Corcovado National Park.

Costa Rica’s Free Trade Agreement with China, which went into effect in August, allows for the commercialization of farm-fattened tuna for trade. China is the world’s largest consumer of seafood products, and trade between Costa Rica and the Asian giant jumped 20 percent in 2010, reaching $3.8 billion, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

 Pretoma representatives said they are keeping an eye out for new aquaculture projects the organization predicts will be springing up in Costa Rica in the near future.

“It is imperative that we continue collecting information on the importance of maintaining the environmental integrity of our coasts, as much for the economic development of our local communities as for the protection of threatened species,” Bystrom said.

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