San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica is giving away its fishing resources, says opposition candidate José María Villalta

Concerns over the future of Costa Rica’s aggressive fishing practices were at the center of a discussion with Broad Front Party presidential candidate and lawmaker José María Villalta Wednesday afternoon on LA Talk Radio in the United States and locally on Rainforest Radio.

Villalta, who was one of the top three leading candidates in a recent poll, said that water was “Costa Rica’s principle resource,” and accused the government of “giving away” the country’s natural resources to large industrial fishing companies.  

Tico Times Editor-in-Chief David Boddiger and Rainforest Radio’s Jani Schulz interviewed the presidential aspirant Wednesday afternoon on Schulz’s LA Talk Radio Show, “Jana of the Jungle.” 

The lawmaker said that reforming the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) was needed to protect the country’s marine resources and fight poverty in coastal regions. 

“INCOPESCA is a mess,” Villalta observed.

The 36-year-old Broad Front Party lawmaker and popular opposition candidate said that there was no way for the institute to achieve its stated goals of protecting Costa Rica’s marine resources while also incentivizing the fishing industry. The conflict of interest at the heart of INCOPESCA is further exacerbated by the majority presence of fishing industry leaders on the institute’s board of directors. 

“They oversee themselves so there’s no oversight. It’s like having thieves run the police,” Villalta said. “The Board of Directors is made up of the biggest industrial fishing operations and they have no incentive to change [the way they do business].”

The lawmaker said that reform of the institute and other marine issues would be priorities for his administration.

“If there were reform, we could better protect our resources, and make sure the national fishing fleet would benefit, generating more jobs, reducing poverty. It would be a situation where everyone wins: the public, the workers. It’s not just an environmental problem, it’s a social problem.” 

He recommended the environmental oversight duties tasked to INCOPESCA be passed on to the Environment and Energy Ministry or another government body to avoid the conflict of interest. Villalta also said he hopes to see small-scale fishermen represented on the board.

Villalta added that the lack of job opportunities, some displaced by overfishing, in many communities along Costa Rica’s coasts have made fishermen vulnerable to drug traffickers, who have been known to co-opt their vessels to run cocaine and other illegal substances.

The candidate said that if the government would charge the actual value of the fishing licenses — especially for tuna — the country would have the financial resources to invest in its Coast Guard to fight illegal fishing and provide extension services to help small-scale fishermen improve their catch and fish sustainably. 

“This is our fight: a development model that generates well-being for the people but at the same time allows us to protect the beauties of Costa Rica for future generations,” Villalta told the hosts. 

Listen to the entire interview here and read more about Villalta’s campaign (in Spanish) here.

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