Costa Rica Fishing Numbers Soar as New Laws go into Effect (2007)

  • A New ban on exportation of sailfish
  • Use of live bait prohibited on longlines
  • Commercial fisherman agreed to work further off the coast during peak months
  • Shrimp Trawling discontinued inside Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce
  • Last years stock market crash meant less people traveled to Costa Rica to test the waters reputed as some of the world’s best. That was really unfortunate because Costa Rica saw some of the best offshore fishing it had seen in several years. A large part of that was do to a change in law that kept all sailfish in the country.

Similar to the “blackened redfish” craze of the 80’s when a famous New Orleans chef’s recipe for a fish that before had little food value nearly depleted the entire stock in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic seaboard, someone came up with a market for sailfish.

After two disappointing years of low sailfish numbers in 2007 and 2008 a group of local anglers became suspicious. 2007 was an “El Nino” period and numbers fall naturally during that period. When the numbers of fish remained low in 2008 the alarms went off and a group of local anglers began to investigate.

SailfishMost of you have seen sailfish on the menu at your favorite seafood restaurant as “smoked fish appetizer”. Smoked sailfish chunks were mixed with a little chopped onion and cream cheese and served with saltine crackers. No one knew they were eating sailfish.

The majority of this was consumed in the United States to the tune of several hundred tons a year. Even though sailfish are protected by law in Costa Rica, a market was created and commercial fisherman began targeting them by using live bait on their lines.

Even though Costa Rica sport fishing is a multi million dollar industry to the benefit of many local residents it has long been overlooked and misunderstood by the Costa Rican government.  The reason is that thousands of people that participate in the activity are tourists and are here a few days and gone. Regional groups have been in existence for some time addressing local issues but very few could successfully speak out on a national level.  For many years many dedicated people have lobbied for causes but lacked National support.

That all changed when last year the regional groups from Guanacaste, Quepos and the Southern Zone along with the Amateur Fishing Club based in San Jose joined forces to form FECOP. When this acronym is translated into English it means “The Costa Rican Federation of Tourist Fishing”.

Armed with the scientific proof of Dr. Nelson Ehrhardt from the University of Miami, who studied billfish in Central America for several years FECOP went into action. After countless meetings with government agencies and more importantly commercial fisherman an agreement was reached in December of 2008 which included the following:

A ban on exportation of sailfish
Use of live bait prohibited on longlines
Commercial fisherman agreed to work further off the coast during peak months
The agreement went into affect just weeks before the annual arrival of huge numbers of sailfish. The success of these negotiations was attributed to Costa Rican Sport Fisherman working directly with Costa Rican Commercial Fisherman where as efforts from outside conservation groups usually fell on deaf ears.

The results were immediate.  The 2009 season posted numbers that before had made Costa Rica a famous fishing destination. Boats recorded constant double digit days and it was not uncommon to raise 20 or more fish a day. Hopefully as the stock market creeps slowly upward more people can experience why Costa Rica became a famous fishing destination in the upcoming season.

Inshore Fishing Can Only Get Better in the Golfo Dulce

Roosterfish Matapalo

RoosterfishCrocodile Bay Resort is located on the Golfo Dulce, one of the few Tropical Fjords in the world. This unique body of water gets deeper the farther you venture into it. This is one reason humpback whales travel from both hemispheres to spend the first couple of months of their calves lives in a protected area.

The gulf is also unique because of the volcanic and mangrove shoreline as well as the many freshwater rivers flowing into it giving it the name “Sweet Gulf”.  Huge schools of sardines and goggle eyes find refuge in the gulf which attract predators like roosterfish, snapper, and a slew of others.

As everyone knows the most destructive type of fishing worldwide is trawling for shrimp. For every one pound of shrimp caught for market ten pounds of juvenile fish are killed and wasted not to mention the destruction of marine habitat.

Once again as a result of “fisherman working with fisherman,” the Shrimping Association of Costa Rica and FECOPT came to an agreement just last week to discontinue shrimping inside the Golfo Dulce. The agreement was voted unanimously by Incopesca the sector of government that controls fishing laws in the country. Only positive things can happen with this agreement and many types of marine life will be spared an unnecessary death inside the gulf.
The bottom line (no reference to snapper fishing intended) is the upcoming season at Crocodile Bay is going to be a great one both inshore and off.

Todd Staley,
Fishing Director
Crocodile Bay Resort
Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica

Editors Note:
Crocodile Bay’s Todd Staley has been a driving force in getting these crucial fishing regulations passed – it has not been an easy task. The new regulations will help maintain the health of Costa Rica’s marine resources for generations to come, positively impacting local residents as well as the sport fishing community. Todd actively sits on the Board of Directors of FECOPT “The Costa Rican Federation of Tourist Fishing” who’s mission is to be an ecological “watchdog” for the sustainable use of Costa Rica’s rich marine resources. In 2009 anglers have already witnessed a “dramatic” increase in billfishing numbers due primarily to the ban on exportation of sailfish.

Costa Rica Fishing
Roosterfish and Other Inshore Species will continue to thrive thanks to new fishing regulations