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Shrimpers protest trawling ban

Carrying signs, horns and noisemakers, hundreds of shrimp fishermen marched outside the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday to protest the permanent expiration of another shrimp trawling license following the country’s trawling ban.

Known for its destructive impact on the ocean floor, shrimp trawling was banned  by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) for violating Costa Ricans’ constitutional right to a healthy environment. Boats with active licenses at the time of the ruling are allowed to continue trawling until their licenses expire.

The fishing boat El Rey became the second Costa Rican vessel unable to renew its license after it expired on Sunday. While the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) reports that only four total licenses have expired since the ban, ocean conservation group MarViva filed a lawsuit against the agency last week, alleging that Incopesca illegally renewed three licenses in August after the ruling.

According to Spanish-language daily La Nación, a total of 16 direct jobs were lost after the boats stopped trawling, along with other indirect jobs associated with the industry. Continued job losses were the primary fear for most of the protesters.

“In Puntarenas there is really high unemployment,” said Roy Carranza, the president of the Puntarenas Chamber of Fishermen. “To eliminate an entire sector will be catastrophic.”

Carranza’s position has found support outside of fishing circles as well, and a week after the Sala IV ruling lawmaker Rodolfo Sotomayor, from Puntarenas, the coastal city at the center of the debate, introduced a bill that, if passed, would regulate and reinstate shrimp trawling.

According to Sotomayor and Incopesca officials, the bill would make trawling more sustainable and therefore would not conflict with the Sala IV’s decision.

“We in the shrimping sector are in favor of regulation instead of elimination,” Carranza said. “We aren’t trying to fish wherever we want, whenever we want.”

Just last month, artisanal fishermen gathered in the same spot to protest against the bill. Those protesters claimed that overfishing by trawlers depletes resources for other fishermen, and that making the practice sustainable through regulation was impossible.

Tuesday’s rally centered on claims of environmental degradation, and fishermen argued that environmentalists have overblown the effects of trawling.

Tico Times photographer Alberto Font contributed to this story.

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