Measure to reinstate shrimp trawling immediately draws criticism

A legislative committee approved and sent to the full legislature Thursday a measure to reinstate shrimp trawling in Costa Rican waters. Immediately, an environmental organization said that the proposal does not agree with a constitutional court ruling.

Last August the Sala IV constitutional court unexpectedly ordered a halt to the use of trawler nets to catch shrimp. The court said the fishing technique does serious damage to the marine environment because of the other creatures that are captured and not used. The court said that those with shrimp trawling license could use them until they expired. The first one did this week.

However, the legislature said that it was making three changes in the existing law to meet constitutional requirements and to promote sustainable trawling.

The criticism of the legislative action came from the Programa Restauración de Tiburones y Torgugas Marinas. One of the organization leaders, Randall Arauz, said that lawmakers were responding to the desires of commercial shrimpers.

The main criticisms of trawling are that the nets capture and kill turtles and that they also destroy coral on the floor of the sea.

The measure found unusual support from four different political parties in the Comisión Especial Investigadora de la Provincia de Puntarenas.

Agnes Gómez Franceschi, a lawmaker who supported the bill, said that the measure establishes an equilibrium between the protection of the marine resources and the many fishing families in Puntarenas.

“It is indispensable that we guarantee the social security and the employment of the families of fishermen and the development of the fishing activity in a sustainable manner . . ,” she was quoted as saying by the Partidio Liberación Nacional.

“The decision is political and functions in detriment of the public interest, but the deputies took it to benefit the members of the board of directors of Incopesca who are shrimp businessmen with whom they have agreements,” said Arauz.  Incopesca is the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acucultura, which regulates the industry.

Arauz said that the action demonstrates that the law needs to be changed to put others without self interest on the institute board.

The organization, which is known as Pretoma, said it would challenge the legislative action.

The constitutional court did not order an immediate halt. It told the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura not to renew permits for this type of fishing and not to activate any inactive permits. Those fishing operations that have active permits could continue using their same equipment under close official supervision until the permit expires, said the court.

The decision, released in a summary by the Poder Judicial, said that there may come a time when the permits are reinstated but the technology does not now exist that are sufficiently effective. The court mentioned turtle excluders that are attached to the nets to let air-breathing turtles go free instead of being drowned.

From time to time the United States has prohibited the import of Costa Rican shrimp because of the impact on turtles.

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