The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, on Wednesday declared shrimp trawling unconstitutional in Costa Rica, after ruling that the fishing technique causes serious damage to the marine environment.
The ruling, written by Justice Paul Rueda, declared admissible a lawsuit filed by six environmental organizations against various articles of the country’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Law.
"Based on extensive scientific studies, it is clear for this Chamber that this fishing technique causes serious harm to the marine environment, due to the amount of marine life that is incidentally captured and then discarded, and also the negative effects on benthic (ocean floor) domains," the ruling stated.
Justices noted that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has compared shrimp trawling with forest deforestation, adding that the practice "reduced fishing opportunities for artisanal fishermen."
According to Randall Arauz, president of the Marine Turtle Restoration Project (PRETOMA), shrimp trawling licenses have few restrictions, allowing boats to target other species as long as they declare them as bycatch.
“In Costa Rica a license to trawl is a license to kill,” he said. “Industrial shrimp trawlers can target snappers, call them bycatch and not leave anything for local fishermen.”
The Sala IV ruling urges the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) "to halt the granting of new fishing licenses and to refrain from renewing expired permits for shrimp trawling boats."
Active licenses will remain valid until they expire, but must not be extended, the Sala IV ordered.
Justices also clarified that permits may be reinstated in the future if authorities require the use of Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRD), and if it can be demonstrated that a new technology can effectively reduce bycatch.
According to PRETOMA, some 80 percent of the total catch in trawling nets is later discarded. Costa Rica’s shrimp fleet discards some 4,000-6,000 metric tons of bycatch each year. In addition, trawlers snag some 15,000 sea turtles annually, PRETOMA reported.
U.S. officials last year lifted a three-year ban on imports of Costa Rican shrimp issued 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.