SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – José Rodríguez, an artisanal fisherman in Puntarenas, has minutes to make a deal every morning on the docks overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“I have to sell my fish all at once because if not, I lose all the fish,” he said. “I don’t have the money to buy equipment to keep the fish fresh. I have a list of clients to whom I sell, but sometimes I have to throw everything away.”
Twenty thousand fishermen who make their living along Costa Rica’s coastline share Rodríguez’s daily struggle. About 10,000 are classified as artisanal fishermen, meaning they fish on a much smaller scale than corporate vessels equipped to catch massive quantities of fish, said Luis Dobles, executive director of Costa Rican Fishing Institute (INCOPESCA).
“This group has the largest number of fishermen, who usually make a monthly income of $200,000 to $300,000 colones (US$400 to US$600),” Dobles said. “With that amount, it’s impossible for them to take care of their families.”
One of the biggest problems facing artisanal fishermen is that they are often forced to accept a buyer’s price because they don’t have the equipment needed to prevent the fish from spoiling.
But that’s about to change.
Rodríguez will benefit from the Fisheries Marketing Business Plan, a program promoted by INCOPESCA in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle Farming (MAG) and fishermen associations.
“For the first time, the fishing industry has support to generate competitive actions in domestic and international markets,” said Javier Catón, representative for the Chamber of Pacific Coast Fishermen.
One of the plan’s cornerstones is providing fishermen with coolers along the docks to prevent their fish from spoiling.
“That way, they will be able to increase their business and marketing options, and determine a fair price,” Dobles said. “It will give the fishermen a place to store their fish so they don’t have to accept an offer because they have no other options. This way, they can sell their fish when demand is high.”
The Fisheries Marketing Business Plan is the result of an effort by the government and the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to prevent buyers from taking advantage of cash-strapped fishermen, who had pleaded their case to officials.
“This plan has a number of actions that point toward improving the competitive conditions in the sector,” Minister of Agriculture Gloria Abraham said at a media conference earlier this month. “We are talking about finding ways that could lead to exporting the fish, [thus helping] the industry achieve commercial success.”
The National Production Council (CNP) and the Integrated Agricultural Marketing Program (PIMA) will also participate in the project, allowing fishermen to use their facilities to store their fish.
“We are making arrangements with PIMA to start the cooling network in Puntarenas, where fish can be stored as well as gutted, washed and packaged for exportation,” Dobles said. “We also want to be able to use the cooling chambers that the CNP has in Barranca [in the Central Pacific Region].”
Fishermen can use those facilities once agreements with the participating institutions are signed, Dobles said.
Artisanal fisherman also will be afforded business opportunities that fall under the Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), according to the Fisheries Marketing Business Plan.
“The idea is to join efforts as quickly as we can with institutions such as CNP and PIMA so we can find direct marketing options, which will add value to the market,” Catón said. “They will also help us get the health certificates we need so we can export the fish.”
Officials from the fishing industry and government representatives will meet in the coming months to finalize the plan, Dobles said.
Dobles is confident the Fisheries Marketing Business Plan will be successful.
“The infrastructure is already there,” he said. “Now, we just need the government to tell us how we can use it. We hope, perhaps, early next year, the way to access those resources will be defined.”
Meantime, Rodríguez said he and his fellow fishermen can’t wait for the plan to go into effect.
“We have been waiting for a long time,” he said. “If they just lend me a place to store my fish, they would be helping me to sell a lot more. Maybe, I can even buy a bigger boat because sometimes this one is not enough. For me, it would be like a dream come true.”