Visitors report they documented cases of illegal fishing here

A marine conservation organization said it spent many days and nights observing and filming fishing activities around the marine protected areas in Costa Rica. It said it turned video footage of suspected illegal fishing to authorities.

The organization is Earthrace, and the organization’s team members used radar, night vision goggles and other equipment to keep an eye on commercial fishing boats over three months, it said.

In a release Wednesday, the organization said it was also able to obtain proof on film from on board several other fishing vessels believed to be acting beyond the law, including a 70-foot (21-meter) long line trawler. The organization said it was hosted by the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía,

In one case, the team aboard a small boat said they watched a Costa Rican shrimper slip into a protected area off Guanacaste at night, the organization said.

“Once it was dark, the trawler was observed traveling at 8 knots into the marine protected area, where it turned off its lights, stopped and spent 40 minutes preparing its trawl gear,” the organization said. “For the next seven hours, the trawler traversed in the same area at around 2 to 3 knots.  It was deliberately operating within the protected area and at daybreak, he pulled in the trawl nets at which point the Earthrace team boarded the vessel.”

Pete Bethune, who headed up the team, agreed in an email that the organization has no authority to board vessels unless they are invited.  He said they simply ask the captains to come aboard and talk and keep their eyes open.

The captain of the trawler vessel maintained there was only a marine protected area in the south of the region, not in the north where he was, that he was not inside the north marine protected area at all and that there was no way of proving that the organization’s GPS was working correctly, Earthrace said.

Bethune appears to be optimistic that the efforts of his team would lead to criminal prosecutions. The organization said he plans on returning with more evidence.

“Illegal fishing may not be as much on the public’s radar as some other issues,” he was quoted as saying.  “However, I believe it is the most dangerous and damaging practice going on around the world today in terms of our oceans. The pressure on populations of fish and other marine animals from illegal fishing fleets that don’t give a damn about what they catch, how much, and how they catch it means there is no longer plenty more in the sea.”

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