Salt production in Abangares, an activity that has been going on for more than 100 years, is facing its death. Importing salt from Mexico is more profitable than producing it, and due to this economic reality, salt producers in the Gulf of Nicoya are switching their business to shrimping.
There are 12 salt mines in Abangares, 11 in Colorado and one in San Buen Aventura.
Overall, producing salt using traditional methods never had a high value in the country. That is why, in 1974, producers in the Gulf of Nicoya formed the cooperative Coonaprosal R.L. to start producing industrial salt. According to Kenneth Murillo, environmental manager for Coonaprosal R.L., the price of salt started to drop in 1995, exactly when the free trade agreement with Mexico went into force in 1995.
“The problem is that the price of salt drops every day and the supplies get more expensive, so it is not a profitable activity. The salt miners migrate toward the shrimp industry because the infrastructure can be used for shrimp production, an activity that has a stable price and is sustainable if they do well,” Murillo explained.
More than 80% of the salt processed by Coonaprosal is imported from Mexico because it is more profitable to bring it in bulk by ship than to extract it from the salt mines in the Gulf. However, there are still Tico salt miners who sell crude salt to the cooperative, which is later ground in the mills and sold mainly for animal consumption.
Depending on the salt mine and the purity of the salt (brown salt has a lower price due to dirty water), the product can be priced around ¢2755 ($5.25) for 100 pounds (46 kilograms).
In late 2011, Coonaprosal R.L. opened up its product line and started to receive shrimp. According to Murillo, in one year, a salt mine might have a profit of ¢3 million ($5700) and a shrimp boat could bring in ¢15 million ($28,500), thus being 5 times more profitable.
Being in the Maritime Land Zone, the national government grants concessions for use permits to develop economic activities, as long as they comply with the requirements stipulated by MINAE (Ministry of Environment and Energy).
A shrimp farm is required to have an impermeable ground, make sure that the salinity is not very high, especially in summer time, and make sure the tides are high enough so that the water enters the reservoir by gravity and ensure that the water is changed.
Coonaprosal R.L. has 50 administrative employees and 65 plant refinery workers in the Colorado area.