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  February 3rd, 2023 | Written by

Call for US Trade Restrictions Against Costa Rica for International Fishing Violations

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A call for U.S. Port Access and Import Restrictions to Protect Endangered Sharks and Billfish

An international coalition of 18 Marine Conservation Organizations (MCOs) has presented evidence to the Office of International Affairs, Trade, and Commerce (IATC) of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that Costa Rica is in violation of at least two fisheries conventions as well as U.S. Public Law, and its actions threaten populations of endangered sharks and commercial billfish.

The coalition is calling on NMFS to present a negative finding against Costa Rica in its next Biannual Report in 2023 to the US Congress and maintain its status as a nation that repeatedly practices Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. NMFS had already identified Costa Rica as an IUU nation in its 2021 Congressional Report which also highlighted unsustainable fishing problems that the country has since failed to rectify.

IUU fishing remains one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Until these illegal practices are halted, Costa’ Rica’s fishery threatens marine biodiversity and regional fisheries within the Pacific Central American Coastal Large Marine Ecosystem (PACA). The issuing of a negative finding for Costa Rica by NMFS could deny Costa Rican fishing vessels access to U.S. ports and potential import restrictions on fish or fish products under the U.S. Moratorium Protection Act.

Specifically, the petition lists several violations under the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas treaty (ICCAT), including the illegal take of endangered hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, and thresher sharks, as well as illegal take of swordfish without a quota and overfishing of white marlin. Furthermore, it calls out Costa Rica’s failure to institute an onboard observer program after 12 years of promising one, without which it is impossible to properly document and manage its fisheries. Costa Rica is similarly in violation of its treaty obligations under the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission treaty (IATTC).

A negative listing should be a wakeup call for the Costa Rican government to take corrective actions and lead the process for other countries to take similar measures to comply with their international maritime agreements”, said a hopeful Joe Ryan, of Beyond the Se@. “This is what the world expects from Costa Rica,” affirmed Ryan.

The coalition further calls on the U.S. to encourage a list of actions Costa Rica can take to improve its fishery management practices and prevent a future negative listing including:

  • Immediate implementation of an observer program and requiring the recording and monitoring of bycatch.

  • Prohibition of directed and incidental fishing and commercialization of endangered sharks under Costa Rica’s Wildlife Conservation Law. Incidental catch of endangered sharks should be capped at a level that protects the species, with consequences for any exceedances.

  • Catch limits must be established for sharks that are not listed as endangered to establish a sustainable fishery. Once these limits are surpassed, fisheries must be suspended.

  • Immediate and permanent ban on the use of steel leaders.

  • Implement a six-month Pacific longline seasonal closure (from May to October) during the time when mahi-mahi catch is at its lowest and shark catch is at its highest. Costa Rica´s endangered shark catches are increasing, and what is described as a mahi-mahi fishery actually targets endangered sharks.

  • Promotion of green-stick yellow fin tuna fishing, or trolling, by Costa Rican fleets, and help Costa Rican longliners transition to this form of fishing when the longline fishery is closed during the months of May to October to protect sharks.