Commerical practices threaten future of sport fishing

The charter boat captain was patiently filleting a large corvina when I asked him about inshore fishing. He rattled off several species likely to be caught off the coast of Playa Jacó, including roosterfish. Out of curiosity, I asked if roosterfish were edible. I had already been told they weren’t but wanted an expert’s opinion. The reaction was immediate and very defensive.

“We like to catch and release them,” he said emphatically. “We put it back to be caught another day.”

As a longtime proponent of catch and release, I was not surprised. What was surprising is how this one fisherman’s desire to preserve the ocean’s bounty flies directly in the face of Costa Rican reality. You see, two weeks earlier, I was on the fishing boat docks in Puntarenas as the morning catch came in. Here, men were doing what they and their fathers and grandfathers have been doing for generations — tapping the ocean’s bounty. Except these commercial fishermen were not so much concerned with catch and release as they were with putting food on the table.

In Puntarenas, I saw boats loaded with under-sized trout, snook, redfish and a dozen other varieties of fish, some of
which would have grown into the trophy-sized tourist attractions that the charter captain covets. These young fish are being taken out of the Costa Rican inshore waters and mangrove areas (where they are born and grow to maturity) in such volumes as to potentially have serious long-term detrimental effects on the fishery.

An example of such overfishing occurred in the United States two decades ago when redfish (red drum) became a restaurant favorite. Pretty soon, commercial fishermen almost wiped out the population. Finally, redfish were protected from commercial fishing and the population has recovered – and charter boat captains are glad to see large, and numerous, redfish for their customers to fight.

In the U.S. Gulf Coast, fishermen are not allowed to kill any redfish under 18 inches. Sea trout are also protected, as are snook, in order to ensure their numbers as adolescents will result in suitable numbers of adults for further reproduction.

In Costa Rica, however, the need for food overwhelms the need to protect fishery resources. The end result will be that charter boat captains will begin to see fewer large fish in the open seas.

Mr. Anderberg lives in Jacó.

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