Environmentalists are celebrating legislators’ rejection of a reform to the country’s Fishing Law they claim would have put marine species at risk.
Costa Rica’s fishing sector, however, is accusing the government of condemning fishermen and their families to poverty by maintaining the law’s prohibition on fishing in protected marine areas. The Legislative Assembly’s Commission on Agricultural and Natural Resources Affairs rejected a bill last month to modify two articles of the Fishing Law that ban and punish fishing in protected marine areas, according to commission secretary Ovidio Agüero, a lawmaker from the Libertarian Movement Party.
The country’s Fishing Law took effect in April 2005 after a decade-long struggle by supporters to have the assembly approve it (TT, July 8, 2005). It reformed the previous Fishing Law, which dated back to 1948.
The reform bill, submitted in April by the administration of former President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006) following protests by Pacific coast fishermen (TT, Jan. 13), proposes allowing limited fishing in these areas through individually tailored management plans created by each national park or wildlife refuge.
Eight of the nine members of the legislative commission voted against it Oct. 3 because “what this bill intends is contrary to the principles and dispositions of international and constitutional law,” according to a statement from the marine conservation organization MarViva.
Agüero, the only legislator who voted in favor of the bill, said its rejection jeopardizes development, tourism and tourism-related employment.
He said he is aware of the poverty Costa Rican fishermen are facing as a result of the prohibition.
“I would like to sit down with them to see how things can be improved and draft a plan,” he said.
Fishermen, who allege they are the victims of government neglect, say they are preparing to file a lawsuit before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) alleging the fishing prohibition is unconstitutional. They may also organize protests in the near future, according to Alvaro Moreno, president of the Federation of Fishing Organizations of the NicoyaGulf and the Puntarenas Fishermen’s Chamber.
Moreno, a lawyer, is drafting the lawsuit and said he plans to file it in the coming weeks.
“If there is no legislative support (for fishermen), this industry will collapse at any moment. And there will be a very powerful protest, because it will mean life or death,” Moreno said in a phone interview from the central Pacific port city of Puntarenas.
Moreno alleges legislators are not informed about the fishing industry and available marine resources.
“They don’t know what they are protecting. The total prohibition established in Article 9 (of the 2005 law) is not conservation,” he said, adding that conservation is more feasible through the sustainable use of resources.
Environmental organizations such as MarViva applauded the legislators’ decision.
“We are definitely very happy about this, because opening up national parks to commercial fishing is not the solution for national fishermen. We have to remember these (conservation) areas are precisely what guarantee species reproduction that will yield fishing resources tomorrow,” María Virginia Cajiao, director of MarViva’s legal department, said in the statement.
Moreno said if fishermen are expected to switch over to another industry, such as tourism, they require government assistance to do so.
“Transitioning with our own means just isn’t possible,” he said.
On this Cajiao agrees.
“We make a call to the State to seek viable alternatives for fishermen,” she said.