Billfish are some of the ocean’s most beautiful strong fish and sailfish with their vibrant blue fins stand out. Sailfish are magnificent creatures of the sea that combine both strength and elegance in their form. Times are changing, and it is evident in the boats that pull into the marina now with their color tag and release flags flying off, showing off their catches for the day. Long gone are the days of billfish hanging proudly from the boats. There is a campaign underway to make Sailfish the national fish of Costa Rica.
Sailfish are among Costa Rica’s most treasured billfish and sport fishing is a $600 Million dollar a year industry in Costa Rica and 22 percent of high season tourists come here for fishing. According to the Tico Times, 80 percent of eastern tropical sailfish, leatherback turtles and sharks have a disappeared from the oceans. The article states that “Sailfish are big sport fishing tourism business in Costa Rica but their numbers are rapidly decreasing due in large to non-selective fishing practices.” Billfish populations are slow growing and cannot sustain commercial harvest.
In 2008, Costa Rica made export of sailfish illegal as a measure to protect the declining fish population. Illegal exports of sailfish to the USA are a major problem. A recent report of illegal export of 7,000 kilos of sailfish from Costa Rica to the USA has tarnished Costa Rica’s image and reveals that it’s fishing policies surrounding protecting billfish need to be stronger. The problem lies in commercial long line fishing which can catches fish indiscriminately and often includes marlin and sailfish. Protection of healthy billfish populations is also important for the Costa Rica economy. Many of the hotels, resorts and captains rely on healthy billfish populations since sport fishing is such an important part of their revenue.
A campaign is underway to make Sailfish the national fish of Costa Rica and a petition is circulating among the sport fishing community to support this campaign. The bill permits only catch and release fishing and prohibits commercial fishing of the species. Todd Staley who runs the fishing operations at Crocodile Bay is helping to run this campaign. Sport fishermen recognize that it is necessary to take additional measures protect billfish populations. The Billfish foundation also supports this bill and believes it is the job of anglers to raise public awareness around these important issues surrounding protection and conservation of fish populations. They hope that many of the current fishing practices will “look archaic for future generations, but one thing remains true – anglers love the scream of a drag!”