Coast guard patrols are cracking down on illegal fishing, but the effort may be too little and too late.
Sports fishing captains are complaining about an unprofitable seasons in part because their customers are aware that Costa Rica’s marine creatures have been ravaged by long-line commercial operations and local illegal crews.
The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas said over the weekend that it detained four local fishing boats in less than a week for using live bait to catch sailfish.
The coast guard noted that one live sailfish brings in more money to local communities than 100 dead fish because of its value to the sports fishing industry.
Still, locals still seek the sports fish for sale as food. Doing so with live bait is illegal and reserved for sports fishermen, under a 2009 decree by the nation’s fishing control agency. The country also prohibited the exportation of sailfish at the same time.
Many sport fishing enthusiasts practice catch and release.
The agency in control of fishing is the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura.
Commercial fishermen in the Golfito area protested the decree at the time and generally are ignoring it. The existing regulations restricts the time they may fish in the gulf and requires them to be far off shore much of the year. The local commercial fishermen say they feel that the regulations are a major concession to the sports fishing industry. In fact, the decree was brokered by the non-profit Billfish Foundation.
There have been crackdowns earlier this year, but fishermen find that live bait is highly effective.
The coast guard said that a boat detained Friday was the “Capitán Adrián,” which was located some seven miles off Cabo Matapalo, Golfito. The boat carried a captain and three crew members along with miles of fishing line. The coast guard crew said it found a lot of deficiencies with the boat. Not the least of which were an absence of a license, a certificate of navigability and a registration.
The biggest problem, however, was that the boat was fishing with a long line and live bait. Martín Arias Araya, director of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas said that this practice damages the environment and sports fishing.
The coast guard crew members said they found 50 dorado and two sailfish on board as well as three live dorado and 75 smaller live jurel ojón. These are called bigeye trevally in English and have the Latin name Caranx sexfasciatus. These are used as bait.
Wednesday the coast guard based in Golfito boarded three fishing boats off Punta Tigre de Puerto Jiménez, Golfito. They were the “Capitán Bayron,” “Selena Calet” and “Stacy.” The crews all are accused of illegal fishing for sailfish with live bait.
These long line fishing operations put out long lengths of line with baited hooks dangling several meters apart.
Central and south Pacific sports fishing captains are reporting a decline in tourism activity. One said his numbers this year were off 30 percent.
The captains do not like to talk about the situation for fear of turning away even more tourist fishing fans.
In addition to the decline of fish in the Pacific, one captain listed the problems facing tourism all over Costa Rica. That is the higher cost of goods and services and other countries that welcome tourists more enthusiastically.