Executive branch says it will resubmit shrimp bill

The executive branch said Tuesday that it would resubmit the controversial shrimp trawling bill to the legislature.

This is bill No. 19.838, designed to get around an August 2013 Sala IV constitutional court decision banning trawler fishing for environmental reasons.

The executive branch said it would resubmit the bill before April 30 and hoped that the various political parties represented in the legislature would discuss it.

The Sala IV told the fishing institute, the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura, not to issue any more trawler licenses and to allow the existing ones to expire. A university study said that there were 27 active licenses.

The institute 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 bill seeks to address the issues raised by the Sala IV. They include the fact that trawler nets trap and eventually kill many other species of sea creatures including bottom dwelling crustaceans. The size of the openings in the nets are an issue, too, because small openings capture juvenile shrimp and endanger future populations.

The government has characterized the prohibition as something that harms the small fishing operations. But the environmental organization MarViva has 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 executive branch withdrew the legislation March 10 to the delight of environmental organizations. The announcement Tuesday did not say why the bill was going back to lawmakers.

The central government has crafted a bill that promotes what is called sustainable harvesting of the shrimp. But it is complex

and involves a handful of ministries in the process. The measure even called for the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres to consider the impact on women.

The bill calls for the use of turtle excluder devices that let the air-breathing animals escape. It also addresses but does not describe devices that let other species of fish exit the nets. It also addresses the size of net openings and the size of nets.

The summary said that other countries have established sustainable practices that can be used in Costa Rica. It also calls for oversight of the fishing fleet.

But the bill stops short of actually giving the go-ahead to shrimp fishing. Instead the executive branch would have six months to establish regulations, and it calls on a number of government agencies to establish the methods whereby what the bill summary calls democratic sustainable development of the industry can be achieved.

And then within 20 months after passage of the bill the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos is ordered to do a census of social, economic and technical variables of those involved in shrimp fishing. That specification underscores the government’s vision of the shrimp bill as an anti-poverty measure.

MarViva says on its Web site that trawlers destroy 2.24 square kilometers of ocean floor each year. However, the destruction of coral is not directly addressed in the bill.

A typical shrimp trawling boat.

A typical shrimp trawling boat.

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