We are excited to share some great news out of our international offices – Costa Rica has banned the use of trawl nets to catch shrimp throughout the country! Trawl nets destroy our oceans -- ripping up the seafloor, razing coral reefs, and catching huge amounts of marine creatures as bycatch – so this ruling is a major victory for our oceans. It’s estimated that 871,000 tons of bony fishes, sharks, and rays were caught in Costa Rica as incidental bycatch of shrimp trawling between 1950 and 2008.
This ruling came after four years of collaborative work by six environmental organizations to inform citizens and policymakers about the destructive impacts of shrimp trawl nets on the marine habitats that are intrinsic to Costa Rica as a nation. In a ruling on Wednesday, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court found shrimp trawling unconstitutional and declared admissible a lawsuit filed by the six environmental organizations against several articles of Costa Rica’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Law.
"Based on extensive scientific studies, it is clear for this Chamber that this fishing technique causes serious harm to the marine environment, due to the amount of marine life that is incidentally captured and then discarded, and also the negative effects on benthic (ocean floor) domains," Justice Paul Rueda stated in the ruling.
According to Randall Arauz, president of the Marine Turtle Restoration Project (PRETOMA), one of the six organizations that originally brought the case, shrimp trawling licenses have few restrictions, allowing fishermen to target other species as long as they declare them as bycatch: “In Costa Rica a license to trawl is a license to kill,” he said. “Industrial shrimp trawlers can target snapper, call them bycatch and not leave anything for local fishermen.”
The court ruling urges the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) "to halt the granting of new fishing licenses and to refrain from renewing expired permits for shrimp trawling boats." Active licenses will remain valid until they expire, but cannot be extended or renewed.
Permits may be reinstated in the future, but only if authorities also require the use of Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRD), and if it can be demonstrated that the new technology can effectively reduce bycatch.
According to PRETOMA, some 80 percent of the total catch in trawling nets is later discarded. Costa Rica’s shrimp fleet discards some 4,000-6,000 metric tons of bycatch every year. In addition, trawlers snare approximately 15,000 sea turtles annually, PRETOMA reported.
U.S. officials last year lifted a three-year ban on imports of Costa Rican shrimp, which was issued in 2009 when U.S. inspectors found that INCOPESCA was not effectively sanctioning shrimp trawlers that did not use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on their nets. U.S. law requires any boat exporting shrimp to U.S. markets to use TEDs to prevent sea-turtle bycatch.
“Costa Rica is giving an example of responsibility by prohibiting shrimp trawling. Although the damage caused by this fishing technique is severe, the Chamber’s ruling allows the possibility to take on a real commitment to promote sustainable fishing practices that can ensure the marine resource for the present and future generations,” explained Dr. Jorge Jiménez, the Director General of MarViva, another of the organizations that fought for this ruling.
We are encouraged by this ruling, and urge other countries to follow Costa Rica’s example. Trawling is a destructive practice that devastates our oceans, and unless we replace it with more sustainable forms of fishing, we may abuse our oceans to the point where they have nothing left to give us.