By Josh Booth
PUNTA MORALES, Costa Rica — What started out as a dire situation in the Gulf of Nicoya is beginning to turn around.
The Bellbird Biological Corridor starts at Monteverde, and the lower limit ends at the Gulf of Nicoya, the most important area for small fisherman.
The fishing communities surrounding the gulf have seen hard times. As the catch declined dramatically over the past few years, the towns suffered economically, said Ramiro Segura, an administrator with marine biology station at the National University of Costa Rica.
Segura outlined how it all happened.
First, fishing fleets in the area were keeping all the fish they hauled in. They did not pick out the specific fish they wanted.
Next, small fishermen could not compete with industrial fleets.
Some fishermen turned to illegal activities, such as using fishing nets with different sizes of mesh. They would use smaller-mesh nets so they would catch more fish.
As they caught smaller, younger fish, they depleted the fish population; the fish were caught before they had time to reproduce.
Small fishermen also had trouble keeping up with a rising demand for seafood.
Finally, mangroves, where fish can hide, were being replaced by shrimp farms and salt mines.
All of this prompted the communities to act. What they came up with were designated areas for responsible fishing.
“People have come together to be sustainable,” Segura said through a translator.
Some communities banned all fishing from the designated areas, except for family, friends and a few others who could fish using poles, he said. Government agencies enforced the restrictions.
“It has created a domino effect in some areas,” Segura said.
Other communities around the gulf are seeing the benefits.
Fishers in the responsible fishing areas are now catching bigger fish, because the younger fish have time to grow. More tourists are coming to the gulf, using local residents as fishing guides and providing a new form of income for the communities.