From The Tico Times, Posted: Friday, September 05, 2008 - By Shawn Larkin
The most hightech, large-scale fishing in Costa Rica’s oceans is commercial tuna fishing.
From hardworking crew and helicopters to radar and satellites, these operations take catching fish very seriously.
drop enormous nets bigger than a city block into the sea to catch vast
quantities of an assortment of marine life. They are after mostly tuna,
among the most valuable fish of any denizens of the deep.
fishing boats find a big group of spinner dolphins, they find some of
their ever-present sidekicks: giant yellowfin and bigeye tuna. Mostly
seen only below the surface, the tuna would not be so easy to locate
without the help of the dolphins, which must surface regularly to
breathe. The giant tuna pack together around the dolphins that find
their food for them. Here, offshore of southern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, the big tuna and the spinner dolphins are always together.
I reckon the dolphins think: “Now that the moon
is full, the current is from the southwest at two knots and the wind is
calm, a bigspaced swell is coming in from west-southwest, it rained
last night and the layers of water temperatures changed a lot, it’s a
sunny day, almost high noon, and I think I know where all those other
dolphins are going, and the orcas will not hunt today, and the tuna
boats will be busy for a few hours – hope my friends and family make it
out! – we should go hunt the south end of the Osa drop-off upwelling.”
And I reckon the tuna are thinking just one thing: “Follow the dolphins.”
the dolphins. Just as the seabirds, the sailfish and the marlin, the
sharks and the whales, the sportfishing captains and the commercial
tuna-fishing fleets do. Follow the dolphins; they have the best
actionable ocean intelligence. The dolphins have the network. They are
always with the food.
In the Osa drop-off upwelling,
where dense, cooler and nutrient-rich water is pushed toward the ocean
surface, the tuna, birds and other marine life are nearly always with
the dolphins. All a commercial fishing fleet has to do is find the birds
on a special radar, send up a helicopter or two to check it out and
call in coordinates, start corralling the dolphins with the helicopter
and explosives dropped from the helicopter, put down small, fast chase
boats to further corral the dolphins, use the ship to corral the
dolphins even more, and then put down a very big net around the dolphins
and associated marine life with the help of a special net boat.
If you do this, you get a lot of tuna in the net below the dolphins, and it’s worth a lot of money.
this kind of bonanza is unsustainable. The longer-lived, more slowly
reproducing spinners will probably die out before the tuna are
exhausted, perhaps giving the tuna a chance to recuperate, because once
the dolphins are gone, no one will be able to find the tuna. But how
will the tuna find food without the dolphins?
industry insiders have told me that dozens of spinner dolphins are
killed every day by busy boats. They die most frequently when their
narrow, smiling mouths get stuck in the holes of the nets. Hundreds more
must be manhandled by diving crews and thrown out of the nets daily,
lest the nets are damaged.
Other Osa dolphin
species, such as bottlenose and spotted dolphins, are somewhat likelier
to swim out if a small piece of one end of the net is put down for a
while, a procedure known as a “backdown.”
Backdowns do not help Osa’s spinner dolphins, however; they stay in the net.
Tuna fishermen say the spinners are tontos,
stupid, because they do not swim away from the ship and out of the net.
They seem unable to stop surfing the ship’s waves. The same trait the
tourist boats love dooms the poor spinners.
Time for ‘Pelagic Park’
The blue-water pelagic (open-ocean) ecosystem domain of the Osa’s spinner dolphins is probably the most productive ecosystem in Costa Rica,
perhaps in the tropical marine world. According to former members of
Jacques Cousteau’s legendary conservation ship, Calypso, and the BBC’s
top “Blue Planet” underwater cameramen, offshore Osa is the richest
tropical blue water they have seen anywhere on the planet (see sidebar).
dolphins’ domain is an area between five and 20 nautical miles from
Caño Island Biological Reserve. The reserve’s waters currently extend
only about two nautical miles; this is not enough to protect large
animals such as dolphins and tuna. To protect large marine animals, you
need a Corcovado or Amistad-sized park at sea.
many years, around the world, protected marine areas have proven to
increase catches in surrounding areas. With a big enough pelagic park,
or better still, parks and corridors, tuna-fishing boats could make
money in the long term, not just short.
An astounding number of big, amazing animals
live in the Osa drop-off upwelling area and would be protected along
with the spinners. Fin, sei, Bryde’s, humpback and blue whales and orcas
frequent this little upwelling. Sailfish, marlin, tuna, manta rays,
whale sharks, turtles, beaked whales, pilot whales, pseudorcas,
bottlenose dolphins and spotted dolphins are found here in some of the
highest concentrations in the world.
A special area of the Osa drop-off upwelling, the clearest waters in Costa Rica,
would be an excellent place to prohibit commercial fishing, save the
spinners and allow boaters and divers to see and snorkel with dolphins
and other amazing marine life in the big blue.
Many people in Costa Rica,
including yours truly, already benefit greatly from tourists visiting
the giant dolphin pods and other marine life congregations off the Osa.
But the commercial fishing fleet will end it soon for us all if some
sort of pelagic park is not created.
are dying. There seem to be a lot fewer little spinners now then there
were in the past. The pods no longer stretch to the horizon in every
A park is the only solution. Just as Costa Rica
has demonstrated to the world the value of protecting functioning
terrestrial ecosystems, we can show the world the same goes for the
ocean. Costa Rica needs to make peace with the ocean as well as the rain forest. It’s time to set aside a meaningful, not miniscule, part of Costa Rica’s biggest ecosystem: the open ocean.