It isn’t always easy making a living, particularly when you depend on unpredictable supplies of fish in changing waters to survive. Across the world, fishermen who remain loyal to traditional methods – often called "artisanal" fishermen – face a combination of pressures unlike any their ancestors struggled through.
In addition to the always challenging nature of feeding a family and providing enough income to survive, industrial practices have befouled natural systems and large-scale commercial fishing has stripped the oceans of much of their natural bounty.
Life was precarious in Tárcoles, Costa Rica, for these and other reasons. But here, as in many spots across the globe, the local people have found their own solution.
A few years ago, Tárcoles was much like other fishing communities in the great swath of Pacific Ocean that hugs the western coastlines of Central and South America. Like many small, coastal communities, poverty in Tárcoles was increasing as resources declined, and prices for meager fish catches stayed flat as markets were saturated by larger commercial fishermen.
The Tárcoles Revolution
But the people of Tárcoles chose a different path. In partnership with CoopeSolidar R.L., a Costa Rican group committed to conserving marine resources and improving local livelihoods, the local fishermen established a fishing association, CoopeTarcoles R.L., which unites their efforts and allows them to jointly protect their businesses and larger community.
The cooperative has become the thriving centerpiece of the community. Membership dues fund a project manager and maintain the community’s small state-of-the-art processing facility, which delivers high-quality, sustainably captured fish to local tourism operators. Locals also offer tourists guided visits that showcase responsible fishing methods.
Meet Luis Angel Rojas
Few epitomize the local commitment to healthy fisheries better than Luis Angel Rojas, lifetime resident and recent recipient of a prestigious local shark conservation award.
Rojas is living testimony to CoopeTarcoles’ responsible fishing code, working to provide valuable capture data that will assist managers in developing sustainable fishing strategies in the newly created Tárcoles Community Managed Fishing Area and beyond.
Much of the community gathered to see Rojas accept his award. He is a true conservation leader, having represented his cooperative at international events, where he provides valuable on-the-ground insights into the conservation planning process.
He has also movingly relayed the dire conditions that small-scale fishermen face, as well as their need for viable solutions to improve their livelihoods when they commit to smart use of marine resources and avoiding accidental capture of sea turtles and sharks.
Most importantly, Rojas’ is not alone in his commitment to responsible fishing. He is only one example of the kind of commitment the entire community shares.
Late last year, the national government approved CoopeTarcoles’ petition to create a community managed marine reserve.
In November, CoopeSolidar and Conservation International helped CoopeTarcoles bring the presidents of most Latin American artisanal fishing cooperatives from the International Fishers’ Forum in nearby Puntarenas to visit the Tárcoles facility. The visitors were so impressed that they agreed to work together to organize a Latin American Artisanal Fishers’ Forum, to be held in Tárcoles in late 2008.
Perhaps all of Tárcoles deserves an award as a testament to the power of what one dedicated community can do.
LEARN MORE: CI works with many local conservation heroes – like Feng Limin, a tiger conservationist in China.