A conversation with new fisheries head Moises Mug

June 28, 2018

The new director of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA), Moises Mug, is a fisheries biologist with 32 years of experience in sustainable fisheries, ocean conservation and development. Mug’s work includes high-level policy development, planning and implementation of complex fishery programs, teaching and research.

Mug has worked in international fisheries for the past 15 years, focusing on policy, governance, capacity building, markets and livelihoods, and sustainable finance. He holds a master’s degree in fisheries science from Oregon State University (OSU) in a joint program with the University of Washington (UW).

President Carlos Alvarado recently appointed Mug to head INCOPESCA, the governing body of Costa Rican fisheries. The Tico Times sat down with him recently to talk about his new position; excerpts follow.

What are the major challenges for Costa Rica as far as our territorial waters?

To regain control of marine resources in the Pacific and Caribbean. The big problem is that we lack the means to efficiently control illegal fishing; we also need to better understand our tuna supply, which is the biggest resource in our fisheries.

We also need to to take advantage of our rich waters while reaching a balance between production, conservation, and tourism. The fishing authority also needs a lot of work, to focus on objectives and to change practices to follow a clear plan to reach a level sustainability in oceanic as well as coastal fisheries.

What should the policy of the country be for marine conservation and sustainability?

We have a Pacific coast which is very rich and a smaller portion in the Caribbean in Costa Rican territory. There is an opportunity for Costa Rica to regain its rights to the wider Eastern Pacific Ocean resources, such as the tuna capacity allowance that the IATTC gave us back in 2003… We need to define a specific policy to reduce poverty in the coast, improve income in our fisheries, and improve catches without over-exploiting the resource.

We basically have to increase prosperity in our oceans. In this prosperity, marine resources aren’t just food resources. We have an important and amazing tourism potential, in tourist fishing and sport fishing. We also need to find a balance of the fisheries so one fishery does not negatively impact the other. So reducing bycatch [incidental catch while targeting another species] is also very important.

How big a problem is illegal fishing in Costa Rica?

A very big problem. We have been looking at satellite data and IATTC catch data and comparing it with the number of landings and licenses. We believe illegal fishing takes 25 or 26 percent of all catches in Costa Rica. In addition to that, not all legal catches of tuna are being unloaded in Costa Rica. A big portion of purse seine vessels are unloaded elsewhere, so we are not taking full advantage of our resources, particularly tuna.

Do you have plans to work with the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT)?

Recently we had a meeting with [representatives of] the fishing sector, legislators, and some of the ministers sponsored by the Ministry of the Presidency. We discussed the major lines for the policy in fisheries. Tourism is going to be a key asset to reduce poverty in this country.

As we learned from the lessons like the shrimp trawling law that laid off around 800 people in that industry, people are looking for alternative means in the ocean. One important one is tourism, and sport fishing can definitely supply work to unemployed fishermen.

Costa Rica was once considered “The Sailfish Capital of the World.” Will we ever see a day when that title returns?

We can work to reduce bycatch of sailfish for sure. One of the plans I have for INCOPESCA is to write down recovery plans for specific fisheries, coastal fisheries and oceanic fisheries. Sailfish is definitely going to be one. The mortality of sailfish, however, goes beyond Costa Rican fisheries. What’s happening in other regions of their range [Mexico to Ecuador in the Eastern Tropical Pacific] contributes to the population density in Costa Rica because they are migratory. We must work throughout the whole range  to increase numbers.

How to do this will be tricky, because we can work on rules and regulations in Costa Rica, but we need other countries as well. Guatemala and Panama will probably be allies in this effort, but other countries that do not have a clear sport fishing industry need to see the benefit of this.

Todd Staley has run fishing sport operations on both coasts of Costa Rica for over 25 years. He recently decided to take some time off to devote full time to marine conservation. His “Wetline Costa Rica” column appears monthly in The Tico Times. Contact him at wetline@hotmail.com.

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