Illegal fishing led to threats and gunplay in the gulf of Nicoya

The security minister is supporting the actions of several members of the Guardacostas who fired into the water when they were surrounded by hostile fisherman last December. The announcement came Thursday following an internal investigation into the incident. The minister is Mario Zamora Cordero.

The fisherman were reportedly startled Dec. 20 by a coast guard boat in the Gulf of Nicoya. The officers on the boat caught them using nets with holes smaller than is legally permitted among other illegal fishing practices. Smaller nets snag undersized fish and increase damage to the ecosystem but can mean more profit for fisherman because they haul a bigger load.

The official report states that during the incident the three Coast Guard members were outnumbered by 40 or 50 fisherman who surrounded them brandishing knives and other menacing weapons and that a fisherman threw a knife at the Coast Guard boat. That was when the coast guard officer, María de los Ángeles Morales Flores, discharged a gun into the water.
Officials state it is a common fishing practice in the Gulf of Nicoya to use illegal nets. When authorities approach, the fisherman cut the nets and flee at full speed to avoid facing fines or jail. Martin Arias, director of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas said at a press conference that his agency has confiscated a total of seven kilometers of those illegal jettisoned nets in the last year and estimate roughly 400 dredges are conducting illegal operations in the gulf. The legal size of net holes is three inches.

Arias said illegal techniques threaten the ecosystem of the gulf by decimating everything in their paths such as sharks, undersized fish and protected species. He said the ratio of waste to consumable marine life nabbed by illegal nets can be as large as 100 to one by weight. He said the Nicoya ecosystem is a sanctuary and destroying it for marginal profits is not justified.

The fisherman involved in the December incident are being charged in Puntarenas with attempted aggression against authorities and having illegal fishing equipment.

The Guardacostas is an agency of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

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