Protecting the fish that swim in sunlight

December 17, 2018


Twelve years ago, in a restaurant in Puntarenas on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, a group of long line fishermen sat down to eat with three UNDP conservation specialists.

The conservationists wanted to stop illegal fishing inside the Cocos Island Marine Protected Area, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The fishermen were worried about their livelihoods, already under threat because of declining fish numbers.

The meeting didn’t go well and not many hands were shaken after dessert. But it had far-reaching consequences that neither side could have envisioned that day.

According to data estimated by the Costa Rican Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (INCOPESCA), the country's fishing sector employs about 2,000-3,200 people. But if you factor in the families they support, the number rises to between 10,000-16,000 and that’s without the thousands of other jobs associated with fishing, such as transportation.

How could the goals of conservation also meet the needs of fishermen and their families?

Fast forward twelve years, and the perspectives of both the conservationists and the fishermen have changed. In November, not far from that restaurant in Puntarenas, Costa Rica became the first country in the world to launch a National Action Plan for sustainable fisheries of large pelagic species.

Pelagic fish, such as mahi mahi, swordfish, and sharks, live in sunlit waters of about 200 metres.

The plan will improve fisheries, increase the supply of sustainable seafood, and ensure the social welfare of people who depend on fishing. Running in tandem with UNDP's support of the Green Commodities Programme, which focuses on the sustainability challenges of highly-traded commodities, it will directly contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Costa Rica.  

It’s the result of twelve months of negotiations involving more than one hundred representatives of government, academia, civil society, fishermen, exporters, restaurants and supermarkets.

And it’s transformed people who were once adversaries into allies, working for a more sustainable, inclusive and promising future for Costa Rican fisheries.                          

During the presentation one of the fishermen approached the same UNDP officer he met all those years ago and said; “I want to thank UNDP for the trust it has given us, and for helping us build a formal plan.”


Protecting the fish that swim in sunlight

Costa Rica's fishing sector employs about 2,000-3,200 people. Photo: UNDP/Costa Rica