18 NGOs call for US to implement restrictions on seafood imports from Costa Rica

Sharks caught in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is violating at least two international fisheries conventions and U.S. law by its failure to adequately protect endangered shark and commercial billfish populations, according to a coalition of 18 marine conservation organizations.

The group, which includes MarViva, Marine Watch International, For The Oceans Foundation, Sea Legacy, The SeaChange Agency, La Asociación Centro Restauración Especies Marinas Amenazadas (CREMA), and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, among others, said it presented a report including evidence of the violations to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service Office of International Affairs Trade on 27 January, 2023.

‘‘Costa Rica has long turned over the direction of fishery policy to the sole interest of commercial fisheries, disregarding science and ignoring the public interest, with the result that Costa Rica is now an international pariah when it comes to fisheries management. Endangered sharks and billfish are in greater threat than ever in Costa Rican waters,’’ Costa Rica Marine Watch International Policy Director Randall Arauz said. Arauz also serves as the coalition's leader.

The group's petition lists violations under the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission treaty (IATTC) treaties, including the illegal take of endangered hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, and thresher sharks, as well as illegal catches of swordfish without a quota and overfishing of white marlin. It also criticizes Costa Rica for failing to institute an onboard observer program after 12 years of promising one, "without which it is impossible to properly document and manage its fisheries."

The group called on NMFS to present a negative finding against Costa Rica in its next 2023 Biannual Report to the U.S. Congress, Turtle Island Restoration Network Executive Director Todd Steiner said. The designation would require the U.S. government to implement restrictions on Costa Rica's access to the U.S. seafood market.

‘‘Costa Rica is killing sharks and sea turtles and undermining international fishing treaties designed to create sustainable fisheries. If Costa Rica cannot meet its international legal obligations, the U.S. should sanction Costa Rica and prevent the sale of its fish products into the U.S. marketplace. Americans don’t want to eat fish that are caught in ways that are destroying ocean wildlife,” said Turtle Island Restoration Network Executive Director Todd Steiner.

The SeaChange Agency Director Brock Cahill said a negative listing would be a wake-up call for the Costa Rican government to take corrective actions.

“Costa Rican waters are a stronghold for many of the essential and endangered species in the sea, which make it high time to hold the country accountable for its IUU fishing activities,” Cahill said. “Costa Rica has promoted and banked on its green reputation for years, but when it comes to the ocean, it is the wild West offshore, and the country certainly isn’t blue. We all know that without protections in the blue, there is no green."

SeaLegacy Conservation Initiatives Director Diego Jiménez said the move would also help guide other countries to take more-extensive measures to bring them into compliance with their own international maritime agreements.

“By failing to address fisheries violations and not providing fishing data as required by its international commitments, Costa Rica is clearly giving up on protecting endangered marine species and seems determined to deface its reputation as a leader in the conservation of nature,” Jiménez said. “The U.S. can and should take immediate action to encourage Costa Rica to significantly strengthen its fishery management practices and guarantee the conservation of endangered species."

  • The coalition asked the U.S. government to encourage Costa Rica adopt the following measures to improve its fishery management practices:
    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 to 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.
  • Implementation of a six-month Pacific longline seasonal closure from May to October, during the time when 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 fishery actually targets endangered sharks.
  • Promotion of green-stick yellowfin tuna fishing, or trolling, by Costa Rican fleets, and assistance for Costa Rican longliners to transition to this form of fishing when the longline fishery is closed during the months of May to October.

Photo courtesy of Valerija Polakovska/Shutterstock 


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