President acts to protect dolphin and sports fishing

President Laura Chinchilla signed a decree Tuesday that is dolphin and sports fishing friendly.

The decree divides up the country’s Pacific waters and designates a 60-mile area parallel to the coast where no purse seine operations are allowed. The area is reserved for sports fishing and medium long-line commercial fishing.

This designation alone is expected to save some 1,000 tons of billfish from tuna purse seining each year, according to a summary of the plan presented to fishing interest April 2. The purse seiners, who use giant nets, also are responsible for the death of dolphin when the mammals are caught in the nets. This area is about 13.5 percent of the national waters and the country’s exclusive economic zone.

The decree also sets up a 200,000-square kilometer area some 200 miles south of Golfito where  tuna purse seiners cannot operate. Only long-liners that can fish for tuna. Long-line fishing is less likely to catch dolphin.

Sierra Goodman of Drake Bay is a long-time defender of dolphin and whales.

She is the owner of the Divine Dolphin and coordinator of the Marine Protected Area for OSA Peninsula campaign.

“The decree signed by outgoing President Chinchilla is a giant step towards protecting Costa Rica’s abundant and fragile marine eco system, she said in an email.. In a presidency plagued with bad press on marine conservation matters, much of it instigated by Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson, President Chinchilla leaves a legacy and hopefully a precedent for ocean conservation in Costa Rica.

“While many environmental and special interest groups pushed for a 100-mile limit for the tuna boats, the 60-mile limit outlined in the decree will go a long way towards protecting Costa Rica’s flagship dolphin species, the Costa Rican spinner dolphin, so named because they are a sub-species found in only a 95-mile wide band off the coast of Costa Rica. Their numbers have been devastated by commercial tuna fishing in the past 20 years.

An additional requirement is that fishing boats install monitoring devices so they can be tracked by satellite. Circle hooks are mandated to avoid turtle damage. Another requirement is that all long-line gear must be identified in the water with the boat license number, said Ms. Goodman.

The Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura is being required to set up a tuna research organization. The institute also is obligated to set up a management plan in the next 12 months.

If Costa Rica does not put the oceans in order, there will be a tragedy, said the president in signing the decree.

Ms. Goodman has some reservations.

“And while this is all good news for Costa Rica’s ocean dwelling critters, this is not the time to sit back and pat our backs.” she said. “It is still imperative to create marine protected areas off Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula, including in the Golfo Dulce. Also, there is nothing in the decree about shrimp boats, the most destructive commercial fishing method of all, nor is it detailed how the new decree will be enforced. Who is going to check if the long liners are licensed? If the enforcement of the regulations are put into the hands of INCOPESCA, it will simply be a piece of paper with good intentions.

“I applaud the president for her parting gift to the ocean. May the ball keep rolling in the direction of marine conservation and protection before it is too late.”

The Sala IV has ordered a halt to shrimp trawling, but there is activity in the legislature to allow it in a way that is in keeping with the judicial mandate

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