In Costa Rica, the changing economic climate in the last decade – one that includes massive coastal tourism development efforts – has done little to reduce poverty levels in the local population (Programa Estado de la Nación, 2007). Aside from this problem, there is growing public and governmental concern that the negative impacts from large scale tourism developments along the region’s northern coast will soon spread southward into the district of Bejuco (Honey et al., 2010).
On a local level, years of overfishing, a national production model that fails to take into account the importance that artisanal fisheries play in rural economies, habitat destruction caused by coastal tourism development, and surging land values have all contributed to the degradation of Costa Rica’s near shore marine resources and coastal heritage. The climate makes residents in the district of Bejuco – a district marked by some of the highest levels of poverty in the country – vulnerable to environmental changes resulting from global warming, and places them in the precarious situation of having their culture and the region’s natural resources exploited and used for the benefit of others. While the district’s poor infrastructure (dirt roads and in some cases the absence of bridges) has inhibited locally based economic growth, it has also abated the development explosion experienced in nearby coastal areas. However, rising property values and mounting pressures from developers all signal that tourism development is coming to the district.
Given that tourism is the number one contributor to Costa Rica’s Gross Domestic Product and essential to the country’s economic well being, and that the artisanal fishing sector is the main source of production in the district of Bejuco and therefore the principal contributor to the local economy, an innovative solution to the aforementioned problems is to develop partnerships, market strategies, and sustainable tourism opportunities between these 2 sectors.
To accomplish this, the project will work with the area’s 2 fishing associations (BEJUCO and ASPECOY) to develop responsible fishing techniques, apply for a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) internationally recognized product certification, and together will the region’s hotels, restaurants and other tourism operators to develop a direct marketing model for sustainably caught artisanal snapper. A fishing co-op will be established to manage the chain of custody between fisher folk and consumers, thus eliminating the middleman. With many tourists in Costa Rica already asking themselves, “How can I help these people?”, the market’s demand will be driven by the tourism industry’s promotion of its support for local fisher folk and the artisanal fishing industry’s efforts to apply its trade responsibly and offer tourists a superior quality product.
Advantages associated with an international certification include environmental improvements, economic profits, policy influence, and social gain. The coastal fishing associations of Bejuco may be the first in Central America and the Caribbean to benefit from an MSC international certification. Likewise, the development of a responsible artisanal fishing model and its accompanying niche market will provide an economic incentive for fishermen to work in an environmentally responsible manner. This will in turn provide for the sustainable use of local fish stocks and allow the growing tourism industry to contribute to the sustainable socioeconomic growth of coastal communities and the preservation of coastal traditions in Costa Rica. If successful, the model will be replicated at other coastal fishing communities in the region. This model can be applied to other food products as well. This can be done, for example, by working with local farmers to convert their farms to produce organic products, and then marketing these “green” foods to local tourism establishments.
In conjunction with the sustainable fishing design and product market, the project will establish a marine research center in the district. The center will provide job training to local residents and ultimately enhance community access to the sustainable tourism market. The center will consolidate the project’s existing sea turtle volunteer programs and combine stronger scientific research and human dimensions elements for national and foreign researchers, professors, and their students to study. The center’s operation will fit into the sustainable fisheries scheme by employing local fisher folk as professional boat captains and guides to assist in research efforts. With this employment option firmly in place, fisher folk will reduce their combined fishing effort by working for the center. Fish stock abundance will benefit from the reduced fishing effort and the sector will still enjoy employment options within their field of interest.
The influx of students, volunteers, and researchers at the center will contribute to the district’s economic growth. In addition to employing local fishermen, other community members (many of whom are young adults that have grown-up and matured through the project’s existing sea turtle nesting beach projects) will be trained as naturalists. Local women will be contracted to cook meals and will be given the opportunity to open their own SMEs as demand for additional tourism services grows, thus positively contributing to the district’s social development.
Honey, M., Vargas, E. y Durham, W. (2010). Impacto del Turismo Relacionado con el Desarrollo en la Costa Pacífica de Costa Rica: Informe Ejecutivo. Center for Responsible Travel. Washington D.C. En Prensa.
Programa Estado de la Nación. (2007). Decimotercer Informe Estado de la Nación en Desarrollo Humano Sostenible. El Programa. San José, Costa Rica.