Costa Rican NGO's Denounce Government's Irresponsible Attitude Towards Marine Conservation
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Stemming from the recent blockades of public highways by the fishery sector last September 2, the government agreed to a series of reckless, illegal, and unconstitutional agreements with certain members of the sector. The agreements and commitments were communicated to the environmental groups after a formal request to Mr. Serio Alfaro, Minister of the Presidency, last September 7.
As organizations of the civil society, we are deeply concerned about these agreements, which according to our understanding imply:
- The relaxing of shark commerce regulations. According to a draft Decree elaborated by the Executive to reform Chapter XIV of the Regulations pertaining to the Wildlife Conservation Law, the legal responsibility of authorizing the importation, exportation and re-exportation of shark products will be transferred to Non Permanent Commissions, the members of which will be assigned by the National System of Protected Areas (SINAC). Such responsibility currently rests upon a council integrated by national scientists, appointed independently by their own institutions. Furthermore, a "Scientific Authority" condition is granted to the fishery sector, with the right to propose its own representatives to the Non Permanent Commissions. This action results illogical, as the fishery sector participation during the decision making process will be held from a business, private, and profit perspective, contrary to the current formal scientific authorities as Universities, Official Institutions, and non government organizations, the constitutive nature of which is ruled by public interest
- Future adoption of passive attitude towards the conservation and protection of threatened and endangered shark species that must be included under international treaties signed by Costa Rica. During this negotiation with the fishery sector, the government commits to not promoting nor supporting the listing of commercial interest shark species under international conventions such as CITES and CMS, regardless of their vulnerability or risk of extinction. In other words, the government allows private commercial private interests to prevail over environmental public interest.
- Active promotion of shark fin exports. The government commits to intermediate between international couriers that have committed to stop transporting shark fins to reassume these activities, even though they did so in abidance to their own corporate environmental policy.
- The definition of private corporate interests as "traditional knowledge" of coastal communities, and then calling it scientific knowledge. The government agreed with the fishery sector to review the minimum catch size regulations under a "participatory" process, due to the denial of the fishery sector to abide by the limits established by the Fisheries Research Department of Incopesca. The minimum catch size regulation, which should already be under implementation, will now be reviewed under criteria that do not follow basic fishery management principles, but rather the fishers themselves will decide the sizes they want to land. We firmly believe that coastal communities are allies in marine conservation, but their participation must not be confused with the delegation of public authority.
- Increasing fishing effort without technical foundation. The Fifth Agreement exposes a recurrent problem that the environmental sector has denounced over the last years: the lack of technical information upon which to support fishery management decisions. The government has committed to increase tuna quotas, and has called on the congress to vote on the Law for the "Development, promotion, and sustainable use of shrimp in Costa Rica", without any technical background information whatsoever. "We emphatically point out that Costa Rican Law mandates that any administrative act must be clearly founded on technical grounds, especially when pertaining to the authorization of access to public domain goods, which belong to all Costa Ricans. The government must publicly indicate the technical foundation it used to adopt these commitments with the fishery sector", added Jorge Jiménez, of the Marviva Foundation.
The NGO sector considers that the agreements represent a setback to marine conservation and to the coastal communities that depend on the health of the seas. "The conduct of the current authorities and their advisors is not only irresponsible, it lacks technical foundation and occurs at the margin of current legislation. A setback of such magnitude damages our country's image, as it contradicts our image of a conservation minded country" warned Randall Arauz, of Pretoma.
According to the NGO sector, the government is favoring private interests over environmental public interest, putting the subsistence of thousands of fishers and the conservation of our country´s marine fishery resources at risk. "We were quite surprised when we learned of the agreements reached by the environmental and fisheries authorities with respect to the disposition of public domain goods by private interests. These commitments are contrary to the best scientific evidence, the precautionary principle, as well as the general international consensus regarding the management of sharks", concluded Marco Quesada, of Conservation International.
We consider it our responsibility as a relevant part of the Costa Rican society to inform the national community when any sector, interest group, or the government itself, acts against the sustainability of our nation's natural resources, marine or terrestial, and which in this case directly affect future national food security.
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