Sightings of tuna shoals along Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline have increased in recent months according to the Costa Rican Fisheries Federation, a sport fishing and environmental interest group. Fisherman and tourism operators have reported seeing more and more tuna shoals up and down the Pacific coast, leading the Costa Rican Fisheries Federation to conclude that a government decree restricting industrial tuna fishing has been successful. The increase in tuna has lead to an increase in dolphin, and that has a lead to increase in tourism, drawing attention to many economic sectors along the Pacific Coast.
In October 2014 the Costa Rican government restricted industrial tuna fishing in Costa Rican waters with what it said were recovering tuna and dolphin populations. According to a ten-year study by Costa Rican Fisheries Federation 90% of all tuna caught in Costa Rican waters from 2002 t0 2011 were caught by foreign-owned purse seine ships, which uses a seine, or dragnet, to capture tuna. These vessels often capture dolphin as well as dolphin usually travel with or close to tuna as as their main food source. These foreign-owned purse seine ships were depleting the tuna and dolphin population over the past 10 years but thanks to government restrictions which decree that industrial tuna vessels are prohibited from fishing within an area up to 40 miles from the coastline, the number of tuna and dolphins are now on the rise. According to a report by the Costa Rican Fisheries Federation, dolphins can be “seen in the thousands”.
This increase in tuna and dolphin is benefiting the local economy in multiple ways. Small and medium scale long line fishing vessels are the only ones allowed to fish within 40 miles of the coastline meaning that local fishermen and women are able to catch and sell tuna on the local market. Also, being able to fish closer to the shore allows local fishermen and women to save money on supplies like fuel, helping to keep the local economy more stable. More tourists are looking at sport fishing excursions during their stay with the notion of catching tuna seeing shoals of thousands of tuna almost a guarantee. And, more and more tourists are booking dolphin watching trips as well during their stay on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. These tourists are staying in local hotels, eating at local restaurants and helping to increase the amount of money circulating in smaller communities.
The tuna population is improving and the size of the tuna is increasing as well. Medium sized tuna, usually ranging from 26-29 kilos have been increasing and according to Mauricio González Gutiérrez, executive director of the National Chamber of Longline Fishermen, in April medium sized tuna were reaching up to 34 kilos.
While the government decree has helped to restore the tuna and dolphin population up and down the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Marco Quesada, executive director of Conservation International Costa Rica, and other conservationists are skeptical and say further analyzing should be done. Neighboring country’s fishing regulations should be factored into the increase in tuna and dolphins and more information should be gathered before final conclusions are drawn.
Whether more factors are involved or not, the good news is there are more tuna and dolphin in the waters of Costa Rica now than there have been in the past decade and that’s good for the people as well as the fish!