Pescadería La Despensa is a brightly lit, spotlessly clean fish stall surrounded by a dozen or so other marisquerías and pescaderías in downtown San José’s Mercado Central.
An ice-filled display case rings the shop, and passersby ogle at a wide variety of colorful “sea” food on ice as if it were an aquarium.
The case is a cross-section of Costa Rica’s tremendously varied fisheries – which benefit from the country’s enormous, two-ocean fishing territory (the largest in Central America) and incredibly diverse marine ecosystems.
Many, including Delgado, believe they are among the richest fishing grounds in Central America.
The top five fish landed in Costa Rica, by weight, are dorado, sardines, sharks, tuna and sailfish, and most are found in the varied booths of the Mercado Central.
Delgado, dressed in a white smock and cap, both adorned with the insignia of his Pescadería La Despensa – proudly discussed each species as he made his way around the display.
“We offer a little bit of everything,” he said.
There are whole corvina and pargo (red snapper), with bulging bright white eyeballs, near the front to “attract attention,” he says.
Most come from the central Pacific port Puntarenas and the northwestern province of Guanacaste, he says, and are caught by artesenal, or traditional, fishermen who work from small pangas with single motors and drag small nets or single lines.
Artesanal fishermen form almost two-thirds of the country’s fleet, according to Antonio Porras, technical director of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA).
Beside the bright white filets and whole fish in Delgado’s stall are the dark, almost crimson cuts of sailfish and marlin, and then leathery-skinned shark.
These species, explains Delgado, come from offshore, usually in the Pacific, and are most often caught by longliners, or palengreros, who string hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hooks off single lines and let them drift in deeper waters.
Bags of shrimp – three different sizes – occupy the next cooler. All are fresh, and most come from the Gulf of Nicoya, which operates both a traditional, and industrial-scale shrimp operation – by far the largest in the country.
Then there are spiny lobster, from the Caribbean, turtle eggs still encrusted with dark sand that come from a legal harvest at Ostional, south of Tamarindo in Guanacaste, and various smaller fish, some of which he can’t identify, most often used in sopa de mariscos, or seafood chowder.
“There’s something here for everyone,” Delgado said.