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Costa Rican Legislator Introduces Law to Protect Sailfish

With the goal of stimulating the economy in the coastal areas of the nation through the protection of a marine species for tourism promotion, a new law protecting sailfish has been introduced in the Legislative Assembly. Costa Rican Deputy Eli Feinzaig presented Expedient 23,463, “Law to promote the economic development of the coasts: Declaration of sailfish as a national symbol in economic development, social and cultural of Costa Rica.” Feinzaig is a deputy of the country’s 57-member unicameral branch of the democratic government.

Sailfish are the main species that contribute to sport-fishing tourism, an activity that in 2021 alone generated $520 million for the Costa Rican gross national product. Protecting them from incidental fishing is necessary to maintain those levels of tourism that allow the economic development of coastal communities.

Data from the Costa Rican Fisheries Federation (FECOP), showed that the population of  Pacific sailfish has decreased up to 70 percent within the territorial waters of Costa Rica, according to a recent study called “Trends and variability in local abundances of sailfish Istiophorus platyterus in Pacific waters of Costa Rica: Controls and effects on recreational fisheries.”

By declaring sailfish a patriotic symbol for the economic, social and cultural development of Costa Rica, the country would eliminate bycatch and its consumption, allowing the recovery of the species. Protected sailfish could then be used to attract more tourists for sport fishing. Current sport-fishing laws only allow catch and immediate release of sailfish.

Another study published by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) in 2021, highlighted that Costa Rica is among the first three countries that foreign tourists choose as a destination to practice sport fishing, coming mainly from the United States, Canada and Europe. The data showed that 49 percent of tourists coming to fish travel in groups of four individuals, who also participate in other activities. Visiting anglers spend an average of $13,450 and each of their companions spend $5,950 on other activities.

FECOP projections based on a group of five people, where at least one of them will sport fish and the other four participate in non-fishing activities, show potential impacts at the end of the trip could be worth $37,250. In contrast, sailfish meat is valued 500 colones per kilogram (0.95 in US dollars based on current exchange rates) in the national ports.

It is from this analysis that Deputy Feinzaig proposed the law to protect sailfish as a national symbol. Revenue generated by tourists not only benefits the sport fishing industry, but also businesses related to “MORE” sun and beach activities, hotels, tourist transport, recreational and adventure activities, restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies, artisans, clothing stores and cultural activities, according to the ICT in an official letter sent to the legislator’s office after a series of consultations on this issue.

“Sport fishing is a source of sustainable development for coastal areas. After many years of lacking favorable job opportunities, here we are presenting an alternative, a solution for these people who are looking to work with dignity. Just look at the example of Las Brujas del Mar in Chacarita de Puntarenas,” Feinzaig said.

Brujas del Mar represents the type of impact a reformed fishing industry can achieve. The organization originally was a cooperative of women shrimp processors. The group began to develop artisanal sport-fishing lures after commercial trawling was prohibited. After a successful start in the sport-fishing industry, the organization is preparing to recruit more women from the area and promote the products domestically and abroad.

“We have really made coastal neighbors wait for a long time for concrete solutions,” Feinzaig says. “Other countries have already taken several steps forward in the protection of sailfish and the promotion of sport and tourist fishing, which, due to their high added value and enormous potential, generate greater profits in economies.”

Before introducing this proposal the deputy found that the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama have very well-defined legislation prohibiting fishing of sailfish for human consumption, reserving the species as an objective of sport and tourist fishing. Costa Rica is the only country in the region where sailfish are allowed to be marketed up to 10 percent of the weight of the total catch of a commercial fishing vessel; this proposed law would completely prohibit this practice.

“This is not just an economic development proposal for coastal regions. It is an example of how public policies for sustainable development can be generated. It is possible to protect the environment and foster the economic development of coastal and rural communities from this activity,” Feinzaig concluded.

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