Decent Rural Employment

Costa Rica: Improving working conditions of women fishers


Chomes District, Costa Rica – On the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, many communities depend on traditional methods of fishing for food and income. In particular, more than 1,000 families of mollusc gatherers engage in fisheries for their livelihoods, making a substantial contribution to small-scale fisheries in the country. Yet, they represent one of the most vulnerable sectors, lacking the resources and opportunities they would need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Many of these mollusc gatherers are women who work in the informal sector and do not have access to social protection, despite all the risks posed by their work, such as exposure to toxic algae, allergies from contact with mud, dehydration, arthritis and stroke resulting from sudden temperature changes.

In addition, women fishers are particularly marginalized as they receive little recognition for their contributions to the development of their communities and often they are not part of any local cooperatives that can support their development and strengthen their negotiation power. This situation endangers their integrity as workers and their future.

In order to address this issue, FAO has been working together with the Costa Rican Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture (INCOPESCA), the Costa Rica National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) and CoopeSoliDar R.L., a national group committed to human based right approaches to conservation of marine resources and improving local livelihoods.


As part of these efforts, FAO and its partners have helped women fishers engage with the Government to obtain legal recognition of their work and achieve better working conditions to improve their livelihoods. Thanks to this support, women mollusc gatherers have worked towards a participatory mollusc sustainable use plan, which will guarantee the use permits that ensure their labour rights and allows them to legally capture the product. Such permit will also grant them access to healthcare, retirement pensions and social security.

"We are proud of being mollusc gatherers. This process is going to give us a permit that recognizes our traditional production and we will finally stop being illegal" said one of the women fishers.

Overall, this political and cultural advocacy has raised awareness on the situation of thousands of fisherwomen in this vulnerable condition, amplifying their voices on the national stage. As a result, local community organizations of women fishers, such as CoopeMoluscos R.L., have been strengthened by this process and are forming a united front to promote the adoption of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF) in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, globally promoted by FAO.

Capacity building

Another field of work has been capacity building. In particular, FAO and its partners have been contributing to local capacity development through ad hoc trainings and information material on small-scale fishing and decent work, combining traditional knowledge and scientific methods.

Moreover, specific information material has been developed in order to enable better decision making, supporting the national efforts towards the SSF guidelines implementation and towards a more participatory governance model for the sustainable use of the coastal and marine environment.


There is great potential to scale up this experience throughout the Pacific coast in Costa Rica and Central America.The approach to supporting fisherwomen could be replicated in other provinces of Costa Rica and in other countries of the region, as many communities depend on traditional methods of fishing for food and income in Central America and the Caribbean.

This initiative provides a multifaceted support to address the challenges faced by artisanal fishers, especially women, who are environmentally, socially, culturally and economically vulnerable. Strong emphasis is placed in the recognition of their contribution to community development and management of natural resources and, therefore, in their involvement in the elaboration of certain steps that the Government, international organizations and artisanal fishers should follow in order to improve the sector. This process results in increases the local ownership of the initiative and ensures that specific activities are designed in accordance with local needs.