San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica's legislative candidates are no-shows at ocean-policy meeting

Fishermen, NGOs and environmentalists gathered at the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday to discuss the future of public policy for Costa Rica’s oceans. Though the meeting’s organizer, environmental group MarViva, invited all of the 2014 legislative candidates, none showed.

“This shows the complete abandon of Costa Rica’s coastal zones,” said María Eugenia Venegas, a current lawmaker with the Citizen Action Party (PAC), the only current or future lawmaker in attendance.

At the meeting MarViva members asserted that there are “great holes” in Costa Rican marine legislation and brought forward fishermen who warned of the dangers of overfishing. The group listed 12 bills stuck on the Legislative Assembly floor that could improve ocean management. 

“We have bills, reforms to the fishing and agriculture law for example, that have made it to the floor of the Assembly and stayed there,” Venegas said. “That particular bill has been up for debate since August 2010; there is obviously no interest in this bill, and that is the problem.”

Changes to the fishing and agriculture law would expand enforcement of illegal shark-finning, while other proposed laws would create stricter penalties for illegal fishing and create patrols for Costa Rica’s coastal territory.

Last week, MarViva proposed a complete overhaul of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca), including the replacement of its executive board, now made up of mostly industry insiders. A proposed new board would include vice ministers from the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG) and the Environment Ministry (MINAE), the director of the Coast Guard, an academic representative and two members of the national fishing industry.

MarViva is not alone in its dissatisfaction with Incopesca. Earlier this month another environmental group, Frente por Nuestros Mares, called for the dissolution of the board of directors and launched a campaign highlighting alleged corruption among board members.

Another focus of the meeting was the proposed bans on unsustainable fishing methods like shrimp trawling. While Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court found shrimp trawling illegal in August, there are renewed efforts to bring the practice back.

Fishermen and regulators at the meeting condemned the practice, listing it among the challenges of a future administration.

“We have been fighting for 30 years to regulate fishing,” said Juan Bastos, an artisanal fisherman. “Trawling is inappropriate for our fisheries and that has been shown many times, but politicians still have not been paying attention to the families that depend on the ocean. 

Tico Times photographer Alberto Font contributed to this story.

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