Opinion: Local Fishermen Need to “Flip the Tortilla”

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The situation is more and more desperate for local fishermen, and here I’m referring to the ones that have a panga (small fishing boat), canoe or an off-board motor.

The capitalist model of extraction and commercialization of fishing resources doesn’t allow for recovery, and the mistaken policies of the people in charge of organizing and directing fishing in Costa Rica, Incopesca (the Costa Rican Institute of Fishing and Marine Culture), are to blame.

They permit overexploitation (seven of the nine directors of Incopesca own fishing boats), favoring the large boats and their large nets that trawl along the sea bed, capturing not just large fish and shrimp, but also small fish that die and don’t reach adulthood to reproduce. Thus the resource is diminishing ever more rapidly, affecting more than 15,000 families that live by fishing. 

About 16 years ago in one night of fishing, a local fisherman could catch around 42 fish (sea bass or snapper or mackerel or others), and today they can hardly catch between seven and 10 fish, which is barely enough to buy the gasoline.

In addition to permitting overexploitation of fishing resources, Incopesca tolerates fishing in the river mouths, doesn’t fulfill their obligation of studying the populations of commercial species and estimating the sustainability of the resource, and doesn’t promote policies for responsible fishing.

The crisis suffered by local fishermen and owners of small boats is that they represent the poorest and least educated communities. They are populations with more illiteracy, sicknesses, alcoholism, drugs, prostitution, school dropouts and malnutrition. This is directly related to the marine resource and the means of capitalistic commercialization. 

The crisis in the fishing sector is so great that a group of organizations of Costa Rican ecologists created the “Frente de Defensa de nuestros Mares” (Front of Defense of our Seas) and they are collecting 25,000 signatures to petition the President of the Republic Laura Chinchilla and the Government Council to intervene with Incopesca. At the Internet page, citizens can sign the petition.

The way that board of directors of Incopesca is integrated needs to be changed because the board represents precisely the sectors that they should regulate, which makes them judge and jury, and this is the main cause of this mess. The board of directors of Incopesca should be composed of scientists, experts, marine biologists and professional administrators to protect the fishing resource for today, tomorrow and forever.   

One of the main objectives of the Tecocos (Costal Community Territories) law project is to prevent the eviction of the fishermen and the destruction of their homes and their communities in the maritime land zone, for a very simple reason, which is that the fishermen have to live next to the sea (lakes, rivers) to take care of and give daily maintenance to their boats, among many other advantages.

It’s very clear that the big capitalists of this country want to kick the fishermen out of where they have lived for decades in order to later hand this strip of land and see over to huge foreign businessmen (similar to how they wanted to hand a goldmine over to foreigners). We need to remember that some municipalities have been destroying homes and ranches and kicking the humble fishermen out of the maritime land zone and that they haven’t touched the foreigners’ big hotels that are in the same maritime land zone, nor will they touch them. It’s clear that the fishermen only have one path remaining, to fight. 

*The opinions published in The Voice of Guanacaste don’t necessarily represent the opinion of the newspaper.