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Costa Rica lawmakers sink trawling project

A majority of lawmakers this week supported President Carlos Alvarado’s veto of a controversial project that would have authorized trawl fishing in Costa Rican waters.

“A large majority of the Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica supported the veto that I interposed on October 30, 2020 to the trawling law,” President Alvarado shared on social media.

The vote to override the veto failed with just 12 votes in favor to 31 against. Fourteen deputies abstained.

“I applaud the wisdom of the deputies,” Alvarado said. “Trawling is not sustainable and harms our artisanal fishermen, sport fishing and tourism. This decision is in favor of Costa Rica’s tradition of environmental protection.”

The law project, which had been passed in two debates by the same Legislative Assembly, was criticized by scientists, environmentalists and small-scale fishermen, among others, who feared the destruction of marine life.

“Costa Rica represents for many a beacon of hope for peace, for the environment, for climate change, for health, for human rights and for democracy,” President Alvarado said when he vetoed the bill last year.

“The analysis that we have done reveals that there does not exist enough scientific studies that support the sustainability of shrimp trawling. … Any decision that we make to take advantage of our natural resources must be based on science.”

The veto could have been overridden by a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislative Assembly.

Trawling “generates greater pressure on ecosystems and resources that are already overexploited,” a statement from the Environment Ministry said.

The legislation would have instructed the state-run Costa Rican Fisheries Institute to determine how using trawl nets for shrimp capture could be done without affecting the sustainability of the oceans.

But the fishing method was roundly condemned by environmentalists and academics, including the School of Biology and the Center for Research in Marine Sciences (Cimar), both at the University of Costa Rica.

The latter institution warned in a study that trawling “is not selective” and captures other species in the net. They pointed out that the use of nets kills sea birds, sharks and turtles, among other species.

The practice also harms artisanal fishermen, Cimar noted; the Costa Rican Fisheries Federation (FECOP), a nonprofit that represents sport-fishing associations, called the bill’s approval in the Legislative Assembly “very disappointing.”

“The extensive and unrestricted environmental damage that the activity produces and its impact on other productive sectors of the country, on which thousands of people depend, is not justified,” Cimar said.

Evangelical deputy Melvin Núñez, from the opposition National Restoration Party, has defended trawling, arguing that it could generate some 3,000 jobs in coastal areas, which have the highest poverty rates in the country and have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

“To the coastal communities, I reaffirm our compromise to come out of this [unemployment] crisis,” President Alvarado said Friday.

Costa Rica’s constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice suspended the granting of licenses for trawling in 2013.

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