Groups turn to court to stop shrimp trawling

From the print edition

Six nongovernmental organizations filed a motion before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) to try to force the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) to prohibit trawling by fishing fleets in Costa Rican waters.

“Researchers and specialists unanimously agree on the destruction of marine biodiversity caused by trawling,” said Erick Ross, spokesman for the Front for Our Oceans, an alliance of 10 NGOs dedicated to marine conservation. “Scraping the ocean floor of living and nonliving resources reduces food sources for many species. It removes great quantities of sediment, alters the structure and equilibrium of ecosystems and gravely compromises their capacity for regeneration.”

Organizations that signed the motion are the Program for the Restoration of Marine Turtles (Pretoma), MarViva Foundation, Costa Rican Sportfishing Federation, Promar Foundation, International Student Volunteers and the Leatherback Trust.

In the motion, organizations asked the Sala IV to order Incopesca to prohibit the use of trawling nets on all fishing boats and to stop issuing or renewing trawling licenses  until the institute has shown sufficient data proving the sustainability of shrimp fisheries and Incopesca’s effective control over trawling activity.

“Scientific studies, [both] national and foreign, demonstrate that shrimp fishing via trawling nets is a detrimental activity that can cause environmental damage that is difficult or impossible to repair,” said Pretoma President Randall Arauz, a member of the umbrella environmental group. “They report elevated percentages of bycatch, that is, [the nets] capture species that are not the object of the fishermen, which goes against the sustainability of hydro-biological resources and the food security of the country.”

Shrimp fisheries are some of the most overexploited in Costa Rica. Annual shrimp catches declined by more than 50 percent, from around 1,500 tons in 1997 to approximately 700 tons in 2007. 

U.S. officials recently lifted a three-year ban on imports of Costa Rican shrimp (TT, May 25). The embargo was levied against Costa Rica in 2009, when U.S. inspectors found that Incopesca was not effectively sanctioning shrimp trawlers that did not use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on their nets. U.S. law requires any boat exporting shrimp to U.S. markets to use TEDs to prevent sea-turtle bycatch.

Local environmental groups allege that trawling violates different environmental laws in Costa Rica.

“The technique of trawling destroys the ocean floor, contaminates water with excess sediment and extracts practically the totality of species of flora and fauna in its path, violating the constitutional right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment; by doing so, it endangers the food security of present and future generations,” said Viviana Gutiérrez, a spokeswoman for the umbrella group.