Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


April 2004


Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture


Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación




Land area:

51,100 km²

Pacific coastline:

1,016 km

EEZ in Pacific Ocean:

589,682.99 km²

Caribbean coastline:

212 km

EEZ in Caribbean Sea:

24,000 km²

Continental shelf (up to 200 m):

15,800 km²


258,900 km²

Length of coastline:

1,290 km

Population (2001):

4,000,000 inhabitants

GDP (2002):

US$16,818 million

Per caput private consumption expenditure (2002):

US$ 4,100

Agriculture’s share of GDP (2002):


Fishery sector’s share of GDP (2002):



Balance of production (2001): 





Total supply

Per caput supply


Tonnes live weight equivalent


Fish for direct human consumption






Fish for animal feed and other purposes






Estimated employment (2002):



(i) Primary sector :
* Data from the National Statistics & Census Institute’s 2002 Census

8,567 persons*

(ii) Secondary sector:
** Estimated.

16,500 persons**

Gross value of fishery production (estimated earnings from landings) (2002):
* Does not include earnings generated by sport fishing

US$ 38.9 million *



Trade (2002):


Value of imports:

US$ 32.1 million

Value of exports:

US$ 138.4 million

I. General geographical data

Costa Rica is a Central American country with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and a large number of rivers flowing rapidly from the mountains on both sides. Coastal and oceanographic conditions in the Pacific and the Caribbean are very different and these differences are clearly illustrated in marine fishery catch levels.

1. Characteristics of the Pacific  

The Costa Rican Pacific coast is 1,016 kilometres in length. It includes numerous bays, three large gulfs, a large continental shelf and a very large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which, according to National Geographic Institute data, measures 589,682.99 square kilometres, due to the fact that Costa Rica exercises full sovereignty over Coco Island. 

The Pacific coastal area is characterised by large stretches of mangroves which, over time, have been afforded a certain degree of protection as they are the breeding and larval development sites of many marine and inland water species. 

Thanks to the above features and the higher fishery productivity levels in the Pacific in general, and in large parts of the EEZ in particular, which are marked by major upwellings, marine fisheries in this region are very significant for a small country like Costa Rica. 

The most important fisheries in volume terms are to be found outside of the 12-mile territorial water limit. 

The small-scale artisanal coastal fishery is very significant in social and economic terms in that it benefits poor fishermen. The most important component of this fishery is to be found in the Gulf of Nicoya. 

Other commercially important activities are the shrimp fishery using bottom trawl nets and the sardine fishery by vessels using purse seines. 

Another important activity on the Pacific side is sport fishing which takes place at the mouths of the large rivers. 

Sport fishing for rainbow trout, a practice imported from the United States, takes place in upland areas on both sides and at elevations above 1,300 masl. 

2. Characteristics of the Caribbean

The Caribbean coast is short and fairly straight, extending for 212 kilometres, and with a very narrow continental shelf. Costa Rica’s EEZ in the Caribbean Sea measures about 24,000 square kilometres. 

Given the above features, coupled with the fact that fishery productivity in the Caribbean in general is lower than in the Pacific, and the absence of a highseas fishing fleet, fisheries in this region are not very significant in national terms, but are very important for Costa Rica’s Caribbean region. 

A major feature of the Caribbean coastal region, especially north of Puerto Limón, is the presence of coastal lagoons. Those at higher levels contain fresh water, whilst those at lower levels are subject to brackish incursions, especially near the mouths of large rivers such as the Matina, Pacuare, Parismina, Tortuguero and Colorado, where sport fishing is a major activity. The coastal lagoons are interconnected by a number of man-made channels which allow flat-bottomed boats to sail from Moín, near Puerto Limón, to Barra del Colorado, the most northerly village on the Caribbean coast. The whole of this area is characterised by high rainfall for most of the year, with short, relatively dry, periods.

Large areas of the Caribbean coastal zone have been designated as National Parks, protectimg land as well as marine areas, where small-scale fishing is prohibited or severely restricted.

A major crop farming activity has developed in the areas bordering the protected zones. Over the years, this has led to the contamination by pesticides of the coastal lagoons, which are important breeding, larval development and feeding sites for marine species, and vital for the small-scale and sport fishing sector. 

Costa Rica does not have a large-scale commercial fishery in the Caribbean (only two vessels fish for large pelagic species) and, under specific legislation, the first 12 miles from the coast (territorial waters) are reserved solely for small-scale artisanal fishing. 

II. Structure of the fishery sector

1. Overview of the fishery sector

Two government institutions are responsible for Costa Rica’s fishery sector: the Ministry for the Environment and Energy (MINAE) which, under the Wildlife Conservation Act, manages inland fishery resources, restricting their use to sport and subsistence fishing; and the Costa Rican Fishery and Aquaculture Institute (INCOPESCA) which, under the Fishing and Marine Hunting Act, the Act establishing the Costa Rican Fishery and Aquaculture Institute and other related legislation, manages marine fishery resources and promotes aquaculture development in inland and marine waters. 

This legal division of responsibilities between the two bodies in charge of fishery resource management is, by any reckoning, inconvenient, as the species managed by the two institutions are often the same. It has been proposed to the Legislative Assembly that in the new Fisheries Act INCOPESCA should be the body responsible for managing all the country’ fishery resources.

2. Marine fisheries sub-sector

The marine fisheries sub-sector is the most important socially and economically, not only because it generates the largest number of jobs in the sector, but also because it provides foreign currency and helps improve consumers’ diets with high-quality protein. 

Generally speaking, the coastal fisheries are fished to a maximum or over-fished, as in the case of the Pacific shrimp fishery. 

The Pacific highseas longline fishery, which takes place mainly within, but also outwith the EEZ, has been fairly stable, growing only slightly. 

The tuna fishery using purse seines has been very stable thanks to the management measures taken in the Tropical Eastern Pacific region by the Interamerican Tropical Tuna Commission. 

Catch profile

For practical purposes, Costa Rica’s marine fisheries in the Pacific may be divided into:

  • The tuna fishery, where foreign vessels using purse seines are allowed to fish under licenses issued by INCOPESCA.

  • The large pelagic species fishery using longlines.

  • The shrimp fishery with associated by-catch, using bottom trawl nets and “Florida”-type vessels.

  • The coastal demersal and pelagic species fishery with small-scale vessels using mainly lines, gillnets, and handlines.

  • The coastal sardine fishery with vessels using purse seines.

  • Sport fishing for large pelagic and demersal species using rod and reel.

The tables below compare the landings, by fleet, of the four most important commercial fisheries in the Pacific, and the landings of the small-scale fleets in both the Pacific and the Caribbean in 1993, 1997 and 2002.


(Translator’s note: 1)The translation of the headings of the above table are as follows: Gross landings (metric tonnes MT); 2) The translation of the notes beside the table are as follows:

Fishery 1. Tuna, Purse seine fleet 

Includes fish caught outside of Costa Rica‘s EEZ by foreign vessels operating under a Costa Rican license. Catches within Costa Rica’s EEZ vary around 25,000 MT per annum. 

Fishery 2. Pelagic species, longline fleet 

Fishery 3. Shrimp and by-catch, trawler fleet 

It must be pointed out that although total catch volume increased, shrimp catches decreased, indicating an increase in the number of fish caught.  

Fishery 4. Sardine, purse seine fleet).

Gross landings of the small-scale artisanal fleet in the Pacific


(Translator’s note: The translation of the heading of the above table is: Gross landings (metric tonnes MT).

The translation of the note at the side of the table is:

Fishery 1. Coastal demersal and pelagic species).

Gross landings of the small-scale artisanal fleet in the Caribbean



(Translator’s note: The translation of the heading of the above table is: Gross landings (metric tonnes MT).

The translation of the note at the side of the table is: Fishery 1. Coastal demersal and pelagic species). 

Landing points

There are five major landing points for fishery products on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast and many other smaller ones in the surrounding areas. The major landing points from north to south on the Pacific are Cuajiniquil, Playas del Coco, Puntarenas, Quepos and Golfito. The two main landing sites in the Caribbean are Barra del Colorado, near the border with Nicaragua, and Puerto Limón.

For statistical purposes, the Costa Rican Fishery and Aquaculture Institute divides the fishery zones in the Pacific into four. These are: 1) Guanacaste, including the landing sites of Cuajiniquil and Playas del Coco; 2) Gulf of Nicoya which includes the port of Puntarenas and many landing sites in the various fishing communities; 3) Quepos; and 4) Golfito. Limón is the only fishing area in the Caribbean and includes the landing sites of Barra del Colorado, Puerto Limón and some small ones further south in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo.

On the map below, arrows shows the location of the main landing sites for fishery products on Costa Rica’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts.


The table and pie chart below show the comparative share of fishery landings by region in 2002.

Comparative share of landings by fishing area in the Pacific
National fleet, Costa Rica: 2002


( % )












(Translator’s note: The translation of the heading on the above pie-chart is: Comparative share of landings by fishing area (national fleet)) 

The international fleet lands all its fishery products at Puerto Caldera and at various quays in the port of Puntarenas.

Fishing vessels

In the Pacific, first in order of importance in terms of catch volume is the tuna fishery, with purse seiners of the international fleet operating in Costa Rica’s EEZ under a license system. 

Every year, about 24 tuna vessels, flying the flags of Mexico, Panamá Vanuatu, the United States and Venezuela, operate in Costa Rica’s EEZ, using purse seines.

The second most important fishery in terms of catch volume involves longline vessels of various sizes, many of which fish outwith the 12-mile limit. The larger vessels of up to 24 metres in length usually fish outwith Costa Rica’s EEZ. There are about 588 vessels altogether. The smaller ones are wooden and the larger ones are made of fibreglass. About 180 vessels measuring more than 15 metres in length are fitted with hydraulic systems for hauling in the lines. The maximum length of the lines used is about 55 miles, whereas the smaller longliners use lines of about 1,000 metres in length on average.

The shrimp fishery operates “Florida”-type boats, mainly made of wood or fibreglass, although some are made of ferro-cement. They all use bottom trawls.

Two types of vessel licences are issued for this fishery, one for shallow and deep-water shrimp, and one for deep-water shrimp alone. Those licensed for deep-water shrimp are not required to use marine turtle excluders, but those of the other category have to fit and use this turtle protection device. 

About 65 vessels are involved in this fishery, although the decline in catches, due to over-fishing, and increased fuel prices have forced a number of them to remain in port.

Only two purse seiners fish for sardine in the coastal zone. 

There are 2,421 officially registered vessels involved in the small-scale coastal demersal and pelagic fishery, but more boats probably operate illegally. Most of these vessels are fitted with outboard motors, are made of wood or fibreglass and measure about 5 metres in length. 

The only fishery operating in the Caribbean is the small-scale one. It involves 228 small boats or dugout canoes, like the ones formerly made from tree trunks, but now made of fibreglass. They are about 9 metres in length and are fitted with high-powered outboard motors to be able to move quickly between fishing grounds in rapidly changing swell conditions. 

Major resources

The tuna fishery using purse seiners is fully managed at the Tropical Eastern Pacific regional level through the Interamerican Tropical Tuna Commission (CIAT). Although several species of tuna are caught, the yellow fins figure most prominently in Costa Rica’s EEZ. Average historic catches in this zone are between 24,000 and 25,000 metric tonnes per annum, and landings in 2002 rose to 32,000 tonnes. This fishery is based on a system whereby licenses are sold to foreign vessels which, under Costa Rican legislation, must belong to CIAT member countries and be signatories of the International Dolphin Conservation Agreement (IDCA). In 2002, 24 vessels were involved in this fishery. These vessels are not licensed to fish in Costa Rica’s EEZ using floating artificial lures, but this method is allowed when fishing for dolphinfish. Although the tuna fishery in the Tropical Eastern Pacific has remained fairly stable, CIAT has imposed restrictions on any increase in hold or fleet capacities. 

The longliner pelagic fishery has developed rapidly in the past ten years. First, small wooden or fibreglass boats were built and used to fish within the 12-mile limit, mainly for dolphinfish. Later, shrimp vessels were converted into longliners and, later still, some specially designed Asian-type fibreglass vessels of up to 24 metres in length entered the fishery. Whilst it is true that catches of this fishery’s major species, i.e. yellow fin, big-eyed and skipjack tuna, swordfish, marlin, dolphin and shark, have increased, it is also true that the vessels are spending more time at sea. 

The bottom trawlers catch various peneid shrimp species, including white, brown, pink and Titi shrimp (Xyphopenaeus riveti), deepsea shrimp species such as “camello”, “camellon” and “Fidel”, and by-catch. Over-fishing is a serious problem for the shrimp fishery and has caused a severe economic recession in the sector. It has not been possible to implement the fleet reduction measures that FAO recommended several years ago, and there has been an increase in white shrimp catches by the small-scale fleet using gillnets. A look at the shrimp trawler fleet’s landings figures shows that this fleet’s catches increased beetween 1993 and 2002. However, a closer look would reveal that the increase was due to larger catches of fish, suggesting that having reduced the shrimp stocks, these vessels are now focusing their efforts on fish of high commercial value. 

The shrimp fishery has not been subject to a close season plan covering the whole coastline. Close seasons covering small areas of the coast have been applied only on a temporary basis, and this does not suffice to allow the resources to recover. 

Sardine catches in the middle zone of the Gulf of Nicoya, close to the port of Puntarenas, increased in 2002, with landings totalling 3,110 tonnes as against 1,175.4 tonnes in 1997. Only two purse seiners, based in the port of Puntarenas, fish this area at the present time. Most of the catches are sold to the canning industry, with some sold as bait.

This small-scale fleet has grown rapidly in the past 20 years as a result of the structural changes that have taken place, especially in the agricultural sector, resulting in unemployment in the countryside and human migration to the coast. The Gulf of Nicoya area, most of which is considered an estuary, is home to most small-scale fishermen and there is no doubt that this is the area to which most of the immigrants have gone. Because of this, and the lack of fishery legislation under which those who break the fishing rules could be punished, fishery resources have come under strong pressure. This has resulted in smaller catches per unit effort of the most valuable species and a reduction in the sizes of fish and shrimp caught. 

This fishery is based on a large quantity of demersal and pelagic species, including snapper, “corvina” (Plagiosion auratus), “macarela”, barracuda, horse mackerel, grouper, “cabrilla” (Paralabrax spp.) and peneid shrimp. 

As is to be expected, shrimps, very valuable species, are under the greatest pressure. 

As explained above, only one small-scale fishery in the Caribbean has shown a moderate increase in catches. The main species caught here are various species of snooks, peneid shrimps, spiny lobster, “macarela”, horse mackerel, kingfish and snappers. Snooks and tarpon are sought-after species in sport fishing. 

Fishing zones

The purse seine tuna fishery takes place throughout the Tropical Eastern Pacific area, including, of course, Costa Rica’s EEZ, a highly productive zone, and the EEZs of other coastal countries in the region. This is also the area where the large pelagic longline fishery operates. 

The shrimp trawler fishery operates along the whole length of the Pacific coast, with the exception of the Gulfs of Nicoya and Dulce, reserved for small-scale fishing. 

The sardine fishery takes place in an area very close to the coast, mainly in the middle and outer parts of the Gulf of Nicoya between the port of Puntarenas and Punta Judas. The boats occasionally work further southwards toward Puerto Quepos.

The most important fishery on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in social and economic terms is the small-scale coastal demersal and pelagic fishery which operates in three areas at a maximum distance of four miles from the coast: from Cabo Blanco to the border with Nicaragua; the Gulf of Nicoya, covering an area of 1,500 km², with highly productive estuarine characteristics; and the southern central area, extending from Punta Judas to Punta Burica on the border with Panama and including the Gulf of Dulce.

Small-scale fishing in the Caribbean takes place in two areas, one extending from the border with Panama to Puerto Limón and the other from Puerto Limón to the border with Nicaragua, in areas close to Barra del Colorado.

Shrimp fishing using artisanal trawls is carried out mainly in areas north of Parismina, the area where lobster and snook are also fished. The latter, known as “calva”, is a popular target in sport fishing which takes place mainly at the mouth of the Colorado River.

Fishing communities

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is home to a large number of fishing communities. For practical reasons, only some are listed below. Following the coast from north to south are Puerto Soley, El Jobo, Cuajiniquil, Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, Sámara, Marbella, Lagartos, San Juanillo, Malpaís and, in the Gulf of Nicoya, Paquera, Isla Venado, Isla Caballo, Isla Chira, Puerto Thiel, Corozal, Pochote, Puerto Moreno, Níspero, Colorado, Manzanillo, Costa de Pájaros, Morales, Chomes, Cocorocas, Puntarenas and Tárcoles. Further south we have Esterillos, Parrita, Quepos, Dominical, Uvita, Puerto Cortéz, Sierpe, Puerto Jiménez, Golfito and Pavones.

The Gulf of Nicoya has the highest concentration of fishing communities.

The main fishing communities in the Caribbean are Barra del Colorado, Tortuguero, Parismina, Limón, Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. 

3. Inland fishery sub-sector

This sub-sector is of little importance, given that commercial inland fishing is totally prohibited. However, subsistence fishing is allowed, helping the people who live close to rivers, lagoons and reservoirs to improve their diets. There are no statistical data to show the order of magnitude of these catches. 

Sport or recreational fishing is dealt with in the section below.

4. Recreational fishing sub-sector

Recreational fishing, especially for marine species at the mouths of rivers and in coastal lagoons, and for demersal and pelagic species, is of growing importance in Costa Rica. In recent years, the country has become famous as a tourist destination for recreational fishing, which in 2002 generated some 32 million dollars. 

Neither MINAE nor INCOPESCA keeps catch statistics, probably because a high proportion of sport fishing’s target species (sailfish and marlin) is released. Other important species for sport fishing are snook, tarpon, wahoo, dolphinfish, snapper, barracuda, “ojarán” and tuna. 

Rainbow trout fishing, introduced into the country for the first time in the fifties, is fairly common in upland rivers where the water temperature is below 18°C. In the seventies, more than 100 rivers and streams were seeded with rainbow trout and some still have significant populations. 

Another inland water species that is much sought after by sport fishermen is “guapote”, a member of the Cichlid family. Other important species in sport fishing are “machaca”, “bobo” and “tepemechín”. 

A number of sport fishing camping sites have been built around the coastal lagoons in the northern part of the Caribbean, especially near the mouths of the Pacuare, Parismina, Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado rivers, to accommodate foreign tourists who come to fish mainly for tarpon and snook. Large pelagics are not often fished in the Caribbean.

Some 50 or so aluminium or fibreglass vessels, measuring 6 to 8 metres in length on average and fitted with outboard motors, are used for this type of fishing. 

An important sport fishery has developed in the Pacific with vessels based in Flamingo, Guanacaste, Marina los Sueños in the outer areas of the Gulf of Nicoya and in Quepos and Golfito. About 98 mainly fibreglass vessels, measuring up to 15 metres in length and fitted with inboard motors, operate in this fishery. 

The fish stocks targeted by sport fishermen are thought to be in good condition although sport fishing entrepreneurs have often complained that the longline fleet is taking increasing quantities of sailfish and marlin.

As a result, restrictions are now being placed on commercial fishing in some fishing grounds.

In the Caribbean, there are indications that small-scale fishing in the river mouths and pesticide contamination may be affecting species such as tarpon and snook, especially the one known as “calva”. This species makes its way from the sea through Barra del Colorado and San Juan del Norte in Nicaragua heading toward the San Juan river and its tributaries in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which reinforces the need for the two countries to draw up joint conservation plans.

5. Aquaculture sub-sector

The past 10 years have seen the very rapid development of aquaculture in Costa Rica’s inland waters, with 17,792 MT of various species, but especially tilapia, produced in 2002.


COSTA RICA: 1999-2002 in MT





















Fresh water crayfish











The main group of farmed fish is tilapia, around which a large industry has developed, in the waters of the irrigation channels in the Arenal Tempisque Irrigation District in Guanacaste province, exporting most of its production to the United States. Although this district is the main production area, tilapia is farmed throughout the country up to altitudes of 1,200 masl. 

Other species farmed in Costa Rica are marine shrimp, giant Malaysian crayfish, trout, catfish and various species of carp, and at least two native cichlids, known as “guapotes”. 

Although efforts have been made to farm marine fish, there have been no major commercial projects to date. 

III. Fish utilization

1. Post-catch use

Almost all the fishery products harvested by Costa Rica’s fishery fleet and landed by the foreign fleet are used for direct human consumption and are marketed fresh, gutted and on ice, or frozen and, in the case of tuna and sardine, canned. A small proportion of the sardine caught by the national fleet is sold as bait to the small-scale and longline fleets. 

Plants producing crushed ice used to conserve the catches are located along the Pacific coast.

Some of the more modern deep-sea shrimping vessels freeze the shrimp on board. 

2. Fish markets

Part of the international seine fleet’s tuna catch, mainly yellow fin and skipjack, is cut into loins and exported pre-cooked and frozen to the European market, mainly Italy and Spain. The remainder is canned for domestic consumption or for export to the Central American market. 

At least one company has recently exported products to the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. 

The tuna caught by the longline fleet is exported fresh to the United States to be consumed raw as sushi in Japanese-style restaurants. Some of the other products of this fishery, such as sailfish, are exported frozen in containers to South American countries, such as Venezuela, although most are consumed in Costa Rica. 

Some of the marlin caught is also exported fresh to the United States and some, mainly pink marlin, is consumed in the country. 

One of the main exports to the United States market is mahi mahi or dolphinfish. The domestic market also consumes large quantities of this product in the form of fillets. 

Some of the sharks caught by the various fleets are marketed locally and some are exported to Asian markets in frozen containers. Shark fin is exported mainly to these same markets. 

Fish such as “cabrilla” (Paralabrax spp.) and snapper (Lutjanus jordani) are exported fresh to the United States. Most of the remainder of the products harvested by the small-scale fleet is consumed in the country.

Marine ornamental species, caught by small-scale divers, are exported to the United States. 

Almost all the shrimp fleet’s catch is consumed locally, with the exception of most of the larger white shrimp, which is exported to the United States, and some deep-sea shrimp species, which are exported to France. Most of this fishery’s by-catch is also consumed in the country. 

Sardine is canned and consumed in Costa Rica and the remainder of Central America. 

Costa Rica has some 50 registered fishery product exporters. The exported products are processed in some 15 plants. 

IV. Performance of the fishery sector 

1. Importance of fisheries for the national economy

Costa Rica’s fishery sector is very important socially and economically as a source of foreign currency but, above all, because of the employment it generates in marginal and economically deprived areas, i.e. the country’s coastal areas. 

In 2002, the fishery and aquaculture sector accounted for 0.32 % of GDP.

Exports of fishery products in 2002 accounted for 138.4 million dollars, whereas imports accounted for 32.1 million dollars. 

Leaving aside the foreign currency generated by sport fishing, the fishery sector’s trade balance was good with a differential of $ 106.3 million dollars. 

Small-scale fishing, especially on the Pacific coast, has for a long time been absorbing labour made redundant from the crop and livestock sector by the structural reforms undertaken in the country in recent decades. 

Although this migration has increased the pressure on the country’s coastal fishery resources, it has helped to bring about temporary social harmony, by reducing the growth of the rings of poverty around the major towns, especially the capital and surrounding areas. 

The State must, without delay, take steps to create alternative employment in these coastal areas as the pressure is having a negative impact on the resources and on the small-scale fishers – both men and women - whose incomes are diminishing daily. 

Tourism is beginning to emerge as one of the best alternative solutions for these coastal areas.

There are no up-to-date figures on per caput consumption of fishery products. Recent estimates produced by a consultant suggested that consumption might be very close to 6 kg per person per year, which coincides with INCOPESCA’S marketing department’s unpublished data.

2 . Demand

Demand for hydro-biological products has been rising in recent years for three main reasons: the number of foreign tourists have increased by more than one million per annum, the Costa Rican people now accept that fish and other marine products are good for them, and exports have risen. Consumption is believed to be increasing year on year and, were it not for the high cost of the products, even popular ones like shark, the increase would be even more rapid. With 2004 prices similar to or higher than those of chicken, consumption levels are likely to remain steady or even fall.

Small-scale aquaculture production of hydro-biological resources is one alternative solution. As this activity is carried out in the rural areas where the products are consumed, not only will transport costs be reduced, but marketing costs as well, given that the producers market their own products.

Tilapia is already playing an important role in this respect.

The across-the-board increase in hydro-biological product prices and the fact that species that once had no market value are now being consumed are signs of rising demand.

Imports have also increased as a result of the cut in import duty under free-trade agreements. These imports have a high economic value, but the quantities involved are not necessarily very large. Imported products include frozen Asian shrimps, canned tuna from Thailand, canned and frozen salmon and molluscs from Chile, and even mussels from New Zealand. These products are consumed by the middle and upper classes.

3. Supply

The supply of fishery products landed by the national fleet has increased. One exception is shrimp, whose decline is made up for by farmed production. The recent withdrawal of longliners of the international fleet, which used to operate out of the port of Puntarenas, has led to a sharp decline in the supply of shark, resulting in higher shark prices.

As mentioned above, imports of some fishery products have begun to fill important niches. One such product is molluscs, local production of which does not meet local market requirements in terms of quantity and quality.

The growth in farmed Chilean salmon supply is another example of a product that is catching on in the Costa Rican market.

Costa Rica’s tuna industry has been strengthened with the building of two modern state-of-the-art plants, supplying and exporting a wide variety of products. These include smoked tuna, as well as tuna with hot chilli, oregano, garlic, sweet corn, in olive oil and vinegar, etc.

4. Trade

Costa Rica sells its fishery products to relatively few countries. The United States is the main market for fresh and frozen products such as tuna, tilapia, white shrimp, dolphinfish or mahi mahi and for lobster, snapper, “cabrilla” and other demersal fish species.

Canned tuna and sardine are exported mainly to Central America.

Some European countries such as Germany have begun to buy canned tuna and at least one Costa Rican tuna processor has begun to sell its product to the Dominican Republic and various South American countries, as well as to the United States.

Pre-cooked and frozen tuna loins are exported to Spain and Italy for canning in those countries.

5. Food security

Whilst it is true that there is no State policy regarding fisheries’ contribution to the country’s food security, the rise in per caput consumption figures reflects the growing importance of hydro-biological products in Costa Ricans’ diets. 

Small-scale aquaculture has greatly improved the diets of rural people and the signs are that there will be more such projects as associations and cooperatives are set up and begin to market their products outside of the production areas. Tilapia which, several years ago, began to be used as a suitable fish for home consumption projects, has become a species that is sought-after by the middle and upper classes and is now considered a high-value product for export.

Generally speaking, fishery products in Costa Rica are not cheap, mainly because prices rise all along the length of the marketing chain. INCOPESCA has launched pertinent studies to examine the marketing chain for fishery and aquaculture products and pinpoint where the problems lie.

6. Employment

Statistics show that in 2002 agriculture and fisheries were the second largest generator of employment, providing more than 251,500 jobs, equivalent to 15.9 per cent of total employment, very similar to the 2001 result of 15.6 per cent.

According to the 2003 Household Survey conducted by the National Institute for Statistics and Censuses, fisheries generated 8,567 primary sector jobs and it is estimated that two secondary sector jobs were generated for every primary sector job, bringing the total for this activity to over 25,000 jobs.

Marine fishing generated the most employment and within that sub-sector small-scale fishing was the largest employer

It is estimated that some 2,600 persons work in the shrimp and fish processing plants.

The recreational fishing sub-sector is very important nowadays in terms of employment generation. It is estimated that this activity generates about 1,000 primary sector jobs and more than double that number of secondary sector jobs

Aquaculture has become a very important source of employment in rural areas. INCOPESCA put the number of aquaculture producers in 2002 at 1,065. Each aquaculture project employs 3 persons on average, with larger concerns each employing more than 500 persons. Estimates show that more than 5,000 persons are dependent upon this activity for their livelihoods. These include managers and aquaculture biologists, field workers to maintain the ponds and feed the fish, as well as other workers involved in processing, packaging and transport.

7. Rural development

As mentioned above, small-scale fishing all along the Pacific coastline, but especially in the Gulf of Nicoya, has absorbed a large number of persons who became unemployed in the wake of the structural changes undertaken in the crop and livestock sector in the past 20 years.

There is no doubt that aquaculture has become a very important rural development tool, as exemplified by the role of trout farming in recreational fishing. Upland farmers, who formerly had great difficulty marketing their crops, have developed recreational fishing projects, building cabins where tourists and their families who come to fish for trout can stay. Following on from the success of this venture, the farmers established micro-enterprises which manage the renting of the cabins and the fishing, and sell to the tourists trout and other products such as apples, cheese, peaches, plums and cakes, made by the the farmers’ families. Similar projects, based on tilapia, are quickly being developed in the hot regions of the country.

V. Trends in the fishery sector

Fish harvesting varies widely from year to year due to the fact that it is based on natural resources that fluctuate in line with oceanographic conditions. Although total landings have increased, it must be stressed that this increase is due to the contribution of the highseas longline fleet. There is clear evidence that the small-scale coastal demersal and pelagic and the trawler shrimp fisheries are already over-fished. It is vital to relieve the pressure on these stocks by reducing fleet capacity – a step that will mean having to find alternative employment for the people involved in these fisheries. Marine fish farming and tourism are seen as two activities worth developing.

There are some expectations regarding the sustainable use of species that are not currently used by the fishing fleets, e.g. giant squid and some deep-sea fish species. However, it has to be recognised that the fishing industry will not continue to grow as fast as it has in recent years and that failure to take drastic measures to reduce contamination and overfishing could result in a sharp decline in total catches in a relatively short time.

Aquaculture has become a valuable alternative to fishing. Filter mollusc and marine fish farming could become very important, provided that these activities are located in areas that are not prone to frequent algal blooms (dinoflagellates), giving rise to red tides 

VI. Development of the fishery sector

1. Obstacles

The fishery sector’s further development has been hampered mainly by financial and technological problems, and the decline of marine resources, with some exceptions, e.g. tuna. Although Costa Rica is the most highly developed Central American country in terms of fisheries, it has not benefited from funding programmes with interest rates as competitive as those of the other Latin American countries and Europe, which receive very large subsidies. Although Costa Rica’s EEZ has considerable tuna stocks, the country does not have its own tuna purse seiners and relies on the foreign fleet to catch its tuna. Costa Rica is also lacking in port infrastructure, making the landing of products difficult and affecting product quality.

With the exception of tuna, Costa Rica’s post-catch industry is fairly small, as almost all products are exported fresh or frozen with almost no value added.

Costa Rica’s fishing fleet is growing old and this increases production costs. Plans to reconvert the fleet to enable it to fish on the high seas have been hampered by a lack of financial resources.

For some resources, including shrimp, the State has been unable to implement the fleet capacity reduction recommendations and the problem of these resources is becoming even more critical, as pressure on them is further increased by small-scale fishermen using illegal gear in areas closed to the trawl fleet.

For economic reasons, the State has not been able to make provision for temporary closed area programmes to protect the over-fished coastal fishery resources. This, added to the lack of modern fishery legislation, is severely affecting catches and generating poverty.

It is very likely that aquaculture, in inland waters in particular, will continue to expand, as both private enterprise and the State are aware of the technological package required.

More research is required to produce the technological packages needed to develop farming of selected marine species.

2. Development strategies

For several years now, the State, through INCOPESCA as lead organisation in marine fishery resource management and aquaculture development, has been developing strategies to promote aquaculture. It has maintained or extended the network of aquaculture stations in most of the country, promoting research, seed production and the transfer of technology for the farming of warm and cold water species.

The country has sought foreign investment for tuna processing plants.

As regards the use of new fishery resources, prospecting campaigns have been carried out, but these need to be expanded in order to obtain more data.

3. Development projects

On the subject of fishery development, a regional project covering the Central American isthmus has been launched to examine the potential of lakes and reservoirs with a view to developing fish farming projects. It is funded by the Taiwan Government and will have a two-year duration, ending in March 2006.

It is hoped that a project for the utilization of the shrimp by-catch, taken by the shrimp trawlers, will be set up with FAO’s technical and economic assistance. Although that project was agreed more than two years ago, start-up has been delayed due to problems within Costa Rica’s fishery administration.

4. Research

INCOPESCA and the State universities have on-going research programmes in the area of coastal fishery resource management and aquaculture, where the focus is on genetic improvement and nutrition of farmed species such as tilapia.

A project to examine the potential of large pelagics was carried out with the participation of a National Learning Institute training vessel, which was sent from the port of Puntarenas to Puerto Limón in the Caribbean. Although this project was inconclusive, it showed that there is a significant amount of resources in this area that are practically unexploited. When it is concluded, this research will provide more data for the development of a sustainable fishery of these large pelagics, such as yellow fin tuna and barracuda.

A considerable amount of research has been carried out into the farming of marine species such as molluscs and fish in the Gulf of Nicoya, but it is clear that a more agressive campaign is needed if technological packages are to be developed for commercial production.

5. Education

Two State universities are working on the development of higher education programmes in marine fisheries, limnology and aquaculture.

The University of Costa Rica, through the School of Biology and the Pacific Regional Headquarters, and with the support of the Marine Sciences and Limnology Research Centre (CIMAR), offers courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level in marine biology, fisheries and aquaculture.

The National University, through the School of Biological Sciences, also offers university courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level in marine biology, fishery resource management and aquaculture.

San José University, a private institution, will soon be offering an aquaculture engineering course at two locations, Guápiles and San Isidro de Pérez Zeledón.

INCOPESCA provides theoretical and practical courses in the transfer of technologies for the farming of aquatic species, as well as in fishermen’s organization and fishery and aquaculture product management in accordance with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) guidelines.