Government plan for reviving shrimp trawling is under fire

Ocean environmentalists and even those in the fishing industry are unhappy that the central government is pushing a bill to reinstate trawler nets for shrimp fishing.

The practice was declared unconstitutional by the Sala IV constitutional court, but the central government is promoting the bill that would go around the court ruling.

Trawling damages coral, an important element on the sea floor. In fact, expats who live along the coast say that tourists frequently collect small pieces of coral from the beach sand without realizing the damage that has been done.

The Fundación MarViva said that it would accompany fishing organizations from Guanacaste, Puntarenas and the southern zone to the legislature to protest the bill.

The non-profit MarViva has campaigned to have these nets made illegal in Costa Rica.

The executive branch has included the trawling measure among the bills that it hopes will see action in the legislature by April 30.

The Presidency has said that it hopes to revive the shrimp fishing industry to continue to provide jobs.

However, MarViva said that a Universidad Nacional study

shows that the principal beneficiaries of the fishing are the owners of the companies. The bulk of the employees work part-time or at salaries below the minimum wage, it said.

The organization says on its Web site that trawlers destroy 2.24 square kilometers of ocean floor each year.

The Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura is in charge of issuing fishing licenses, and it reported in 2013 that there were 69 current licenses for commercial shrimp fishing and about 37 of these were in active use.

The Sala IV told the fishing institute not to issue any more trawler licenses and to allow the existing ones to expire. MarViva said that the university study reported that there were 27 active licenses.

The government has tried to maintain a dialogue with the companies in the fishing industry but many have balked at plans to renew shrimp trawling, MarViva noted.

The controversy comes at a time when commercial and sports fishing operators say that the bounty of the ocean has been seriously depleted. The trawler nets also can snag air-breathing turtles, but the use of turtle excluders can allow these protected creatures to escape.

Costa Rica has been barred from shipping shrimp to the United States several times in the last decade because of limited compliance with the excluder rule.

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