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July 02, 2008

Tuna purse seiner threatens Costa Rican sportfishing fleet

Crews capture live video of the incident...

Sportfishing boat crews, guests and owners fishing off of Quepos, Los Suenos and Cabo Blanco were the target of tuna purse seine vessels in a series of incidents documented last week.  Vessels fishing schools of large yellowfin tuna were first harassed on Friday, June 20, when helicopters launched from a purse seiner drove them off the school of tuna by dropping small explosive charges on the boats. The next day, the fishing vessel Andrea F, a Nicaraguan flagged boat owned by a "blind" Panamanian corporation, intentionally encircled seven sportfishing boats fishing a school of yellowfin and confined them inside the diameter of its large net. The incident lasted more than an hour, during which time the seven boats were harassed and threatened by the netters with the commercial vessel's helicopter buzzing the sport boats at a very close range. The sport boats included five Costa Rican vessels and two U.S. flagged boats. Reports of a similar incident were heard on the following day. 
Larry Drivon of Maverick Sportfishing Yachts contacted TBF's Chair, Joan Vernon, and Dr. Russell Nelson last Monday informing them of the series of incidents and supplying several video tapes and photos taken during the June 21 incident.  Nelson and TBF's Central American Conservation Director Herbert Nanne were in Panama representing TBF at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission meeting at the time and immediately brought the matter to the attention of Carlos Villalobos, head of Costa Rica's fisheries agency INCOPESCA.  Upon viewing the tapes and photos, Villalobos acted decisively and quickly, ordering an immediate formal government investigation into these potentially criminal acts. He vowed that this type of incident would not be tolerated in Costa Rica. 
This afternoon, Nanne, along with INCOPESCA attorney Guillermo Ramirez, are scheduled to meet with the captains, crew and owners who were subjected to the harassment by the purse seiner at Los Suenos. Formal, sworn statements will be given to launch the investigation.  "TBF was happy to bring these dangerous actions to the attention of the proper officials," said TBF President Ellen Peel, "and we look forward to prompt justice from INCOPESCA - this vessel should be stripped of its permit to fish in Costa Rican waters and the incident should be reported to the Nicaraguan authorities as well."

You can see video of the incident here on The Billfish Foundation's site.