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HomeNewsCosta RicaThe Dirty Business of Costa Rica Conservation……. Part One

The Dirty Business of Costa Rica Conservation……. Part One

I really love conservation work. The politics of conservation can at times be quite frustrating, and the business of conservation can be at times disgusting. NGOs will sometimes work on similar projects but never communicate with each other for fear of losing credit for a success or even potential donor money.

If they communicated, they could get things done faster and more cheaply, but conservation and environmental work are sometimes big business. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who will misuse donor money or even advertise for fake causes to raise money.

Fear and anger are great tools to motivate people. It is when fear and anger is instilled in people with half-truths, false information, or disinformation, I find it disturbing.

Before I go any further, I think it best to put my cards on the table. Besides occasionally having a column in the Tico Times, I have been in the tourist fishing business in Costa Rica for 32 years, a charter member of FECOP, (Federacion Costarricense de Pesca) since its inception in 2008 as a volunteer, and as a full time employee for the last 5 years.

Since Mr. Daniel Espinoza chose to punch down at FECOP in his letter, I think that makes me qualified to answer the letter sent out publicly by the Central Pacific Association for Sport Fishing and Tourism

Daniel, Your Letter:



Sport Fishing and Tourism Sector Organizations and Companies dedicated to Tourism and Fishing Dear colleagues,

The undersigned Organization, as part of the Tourist and Sport Fishing Sector – and a fundamental actor in the development of tourism related activities in the coastal areas of our country, would like to respectfully communicate some of our concerns regarding the initiative presented to the Legislative Assembly:

Bill No. 23.643 – Law to Promote the Economic Development of the Coasts: Declaration of the Sailfish as a National Symbol in the Economic, Social and Cultural Development of Costa Rica.

One of the main concerns of the sector is that this bill is promoted by the FECOP, claiming that they represent the entire sector. However, there is currently no single organization that unitarily represents all the interests and needs of this sector, resulting in some of the sport fishing and tourism related business that are a part of the productive supply chain being neglected.

In addition to the lack of representation of the entire sector, the dire effects that this project imply to the development of the tourism and sport fishing activity have not been contemplated or have been omitted entirely.

For instance, in Art. 2 Paragraph a, national or foreign flagged commercial fishing vessels are PROHIBITED from the capture, in all its forms, of sailfish, which therefore includes national or foreign flagged tourist fishing (i.e. charters) in this prohibition given that Art.79 of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Law No. 8436 establishes that tourist fishing in Costa Rica is Commercial. If the bill passes, sail fishing is prohibited.

 The declaration of the sailfish as a national symbol could imply an increase in environmental protection. This would result in a negative impact on national and foreign tourism in coastal areas, which generates employment and is an important part of the reactivation of the economy in these highly vulnerable areas.

Likewise, there are a series of attributions and competences given to the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), related to INCOPESCA (Fisheries Department) and ICT (Ministry of Tourism), which would have a series of implications in the due coordination for the sustainable development of the activity and a lack of protection of the species.

We come to you as vital part of the sport fishing and tourism sector in Costa Rica’s coastal areas, to ask you to join us in defending the rights and interests of the Tourism and Sport Fishing Sector as they relate to this bill.

Daniel Espinoza – Central Pacific Association for Sport Fishing and Tourism


How we got here….

FECOP met with the longline fishermen a decade ago to discuss the sailfish problem. We were told by the longliners that if the tuna purse seiners were not taking so much tuna and many of the species targeted by their fleet as bycatch, they would have no interest in sailfish. At the time foreign flagged tuna purse seiners were allowed to work as close as 12 miles off the beach.

FECOP then met with President Chinchilla and were told by her, “Present me a project.”

FECOP then contracted a fisheries expert with years of experience in tuna fisheries and the tuna decree was eventually born and signed by new President Solis moving the tuna boats out to 45 miles. Anyone who is familiar with the fishery here knows how much tuna has recovered since then.

From our experience with one of Central Pacific´s consultants who at the time was Director of INCOPESCA (the governing branch of Costa Rican fisheries) whose main reply to requests was, “where is your data,” to support the claim, we loaded up FECOP with a team of full time scientists to produce data. We have a Phd. In Marine biology and data expert as our director, a fisheries expert, and another marine biologist with lots of experience in government affairs, and a Sociologist with a Master in sustainable local development as our community project manager.

We then went to work at great expense to gather the data to change the tuna decree to a tuna law, as we knew a decree could change in the stroke of a pen. It took several years of being kicked around like a soccer ball, changing text of the bill several times, but eventually last year was signed into law moving the tuna boats to 80 miles. A law has so much more teeth than a decree.

Just in the move to 45 miles it saved 25 tons of marlin a year as well as turtles, dolphins and other species that were dying in tuna nets. Image protection to 80 miles. I am sure the charter boats you manage for Maverick have had their day saved by tuna when fishing for sailfish was dismal. You had to notice the increase in sport boat marlin catches also. That was FECOP.

I thought with the tuna boats cleared out the longliners would readily give up sailfish, but they decided not to honor their agreement and have been actively using trolls on social media to combat the idea of not killing sailfish.

One of the first things you do in your letter is take a shot at FECOP stating FECOP claims to represent the entire sector. Please show me where we have ever done that. Because our name doesn´t describe well what we do we use the slogan, “the voice of sport fishing,” maybe you call that claiming to represent the entire sector.

It would be nice if the sport fishing sector was united. Your group was actually formed as a result of a squabble between then president of FECOP and then Central American representative for the Billfish Foundation after TBF lost a nearly $100,000 a year fund given to them by FECOP.

Since then, a group of people from the Central Pacific region who were either ex FECOP employees or at one time benefitted financially from FECOP have spent the last 8 years or so actively try to cancel FECOP. We have always decided to let our actions speak for themselves, but a chain of recent events has made me decide to tell our side of the story.

You are correct, FECOP does not represent the entire sport fishing sector but we do have groups in Guanacaste, Quepos, Zona Sur, The Caribbean and San Jose. We have an active website in Spanish and English as well as social media where people can stay informed of our activities.

We had a recent event in San Jose and when making the list of people to invite, to be honest I didn´t know your group still existed. I looked at your Facebook and website and your group hasn’t had a post in nearly 7 years. We inform people regularly on social media and our site is available in English and Spanish.

We did invite Los Suenos to our event and they sent us a list of 5 people that they wanted to attend. I believe your name was on that list. We told them the room was limited to 2 persons from each group but the following Monday, three days later we were holding a meeting in Herradura and everyone was welcome. In fact we attempted to meet with the owner of Los Suenos earlier who was out of the country to talk about a sailfish ban.

So we met with Los Suenos staff and they all supported a ban on selling sailfish.

Our event was scheduled to be held in the ICT building in San Jose and two days before the event, some strange things began to happen. ICT called and said they were sorry but we could not use their building for the event. Our speaker from CIMAT, (the governing board for marinas,) cancelled and a speaker from the sport fishing sector in Herradura who was exited to participate also cancelled. I am assuming pressure from the outside influenced those decisions.

The reason we picked the ICT building is because one of our projects, Brujas del Mar, had just been accepted as an official ICT artisanal business. The group of women were ex shrimp peelers who were put out of work by the shrimp ban and FECOP with the help of famous angler Larry Dahlberg from “Hunt for Big Fish” fame taught them how to make fishing lures. They are now sold throughout Costa Rica and exported to the United States.   Brujasdelmar Cr | Facebook 

Also presenting at the event was another FECOP Project, the Women’s Nautical School where women receive training on how to work on sport fishing and nautical tour boats. They are currently on their second group in Guanacaste and then classes will move to Quepos and then the Zona Sur. (2) Escuela Náutica Femenina | Sardinal | Facebook

Our event went off without a hitch despite the efforts by some to undo it and a representative from Marina Pez Vela talked about the benefit of the marina to the Quepos area, and the importance of fishing tournaments to the local community and the economic value they bring.

By the time we got to Herradura Monday for our presentation to local fishermen, our phone had rang off the hook all weekend. People were being told in Herradua if sailfish was called a National Symbol it would automatically become a no touch species. Not necessarily so. Both coffee and Morpho butterflies are National symbols. Coffee is nearly $350 million to the Costa Rican economy and butterfly exports are around $2 million including Morphos.

In your letter to the public you only quote enough of Art. 2 to instill anger and fear in the masses.

The whole article reads

Commercial fishing vessels of national or foreign flag are prohibited capture in all its forms, use, racking, transportation, landing, and marketing of sailfish throughout the national territory. The individuals captured in a directed or incidental manner in waters of jurisdictional or international waters may not be unloaded in ports national and must be returned to the sea.

That is a little different then what you shared with the public. INCOPESCA added the word “commercial” to tourist fishing a few years ago as part of the word salad they often use.

The law is in its infancy and words that can be changed just like we had to go back and forth with the tuna law. You could have easily just brought that to our attention in an adult and respectable manner but you chose one more time to try to cancel us. I don´t know if your letter is actually how you feel or if you are being used as a vessel to deliver someone else’s message.

The cancel attempt was quite clear in Herradura when I was told there were boats on the radio Monday encouraging people not to attend our meeting because FECOP was against tournaments and did not really support charter fishing. Same ploy used years ago by the Bill Fish Foundation which took me several years to clean up. Guess you all figured if it worked once it will work again.

Well, FECOP has co-sponsored several tournaments and even had a team fish in the Pescadora tournament in Quepos. Also I was told people were informed that FECOP would soon not exist any longer because Los Suenos was going drop out of the Marina commission, blame the reason on FECOP and the other marinas would follow their lead.

When I heard “that FECOP was against tournament and did not support sport fishing,” I reached my limit and told myself, I´m not going through that crap again. Several of your employees working on Maverick managed boats got their first break in sport fishing working under me at Crocodile Bay. It feels good when I see them working on big boats and know they have become successful fishermen. Please ask them if I am a serious supporter of sport fishing.

I don´t usually like to toot my own horn, but you can check if you like. I received the Barry M Fitzpatrick award for conservation from the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) for 2022. First time anyone from Costa Rica has been awarded the honor. Do you really think that if I or my organization was against sport fishing the IGFA would have given to me that award? Please.

I refuse to be cancelled or have FECOP cancelled with misinformation and untruths. I have plenty more to say but only have so much space:

To be continued

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