MPAs and Certified Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries

A. Bystrom
Published: 05 August 2015
Last edited: 28 March 2019
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The solution is adding value to the artisanal bottom longline catch in Costa Rica. A stock assessment based on 10 years of landing data (snapper lengths) showed that the fishery is fully exploited to slightly overfished. Therefore, a local management plan was put in place that caps effort to sustainable levels. At the same time, the size of the area's multiuse MPAs have been increased to better attenuate impacts from destructive fisheries. Value chain improvements including a product certification strategy are being implemented to raise and stabilize fisher earnings. 


Central America
Scale of implementation
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Coastal and marine spatial management
Protected and conserved areas governance
Increasing temperatures
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 14 – Life below water


Bejuco, Nicoya, Costa Rica


 Climate change poses the greatest threat to the sustainable development of Costa Rica's small-scale fisheries. Rising coastal water temperatures and the resulting impacts have the potential to severely affect fish assemblages and coastal ecosystems, and degrade fisher livelihoods.

This is worsened by a management failures in developing nations like Costa Rica, where fishery governance is shared between the National Fishery Institute and the Environmental Ministry, both who struggle to effectively communicate between themselves and with fishers.

Unselective, destructive, and illegal fisheries that operate within the Bejuco fishing grounds are further impacting the snapper stock and its resilience to changing environmental factors. Of these, the shrimp trawl fishery poses the greatest threat to the local artisanal communities as trawlers actively target snappers because shrimp are already overfished.



40 male fishers and 20 women who untangle lines, replace and bait hooks, as well as their children and other family members, are benefiting from the fishery's improved environmental and value chain management strategies.  

How do the building blocks interact?

The project is grounded in science. Catch composition data and fisher ecological knowledge have been methodically collected and analyzed in order to determine the environmental impacts of bottom longline use as well as the socio-economic conditions of this artisanal snapper fishery. A management plan was then devised based on these results and used to scientifically justify the development of multi-use MPAs within the Bejuco fishing grounds in order to promote the sustainable extraction of the local snapper resource. In order to promote the fishery’s development and local governance strategies, project stakeholders are applying for an international sustainability certification, based on the previous analysis of bottom longline impact and management. The project looks to use a certification to create innovative markets that promote responsible consumption patterns and ultimately fishery economic progress. A snapper certification, along with the other project components, will be used to promote the fishery’s ability to co-manage these coastal resources.


Fishery researchers began recording the Nicoya Peninsula artisanal snapper fishery's catch data (landing data) in 2007. Now, 10 years later, the fishery's target species, the spotted rose snapper (Lutjanus guttatus), has undergone a length based stock assessment. A management plan (what local fishers refer to as their local sustainability strategy), designed to address concerns raised by the stock assessment, has been implemented. Because the stock was found to fluctuate throughout the last decade between being the overfished threshold and its target threshold (with some instances of under-fishing), the management plan has taken this into account and fishers have been advised to not increase effort and to continue to work with researchers to better determine the stock's status.


35,000 hectares of multi-use marine protected areas are currently protected from destructive fisheries but open to low impact gear types. Additionally, conversations between fishers and the government are ongoing in order to expand these areas to better protect the snapper stock from less selective fisheries.


Fishers are also working to stabilize the price/kg of snapper at 2,000 Costa Rican colones (roughly 4 USD). Since the price tends to drop as low as 800 colones/kg, a more stable price would significantly improve fisher earnings.



All along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, arriving tourists are shuttled inside the walls of beach resorts and not encouraged to leave until their reservations end. Each morning, fishers arrive at traditional docks just below the sight lines created by the resorts’ walls. Kept unaware of the traditional fishing activity below, guests languidly go about their vacations, soaking up the sun and sipping icy drinks by the pool, while below, at the estuary, fishers return from their nightly trips where local buyers meet them and purchase their entire catch of snappers for the bottom barrel price of $1.50 per fish. The fish are then loaded onto a truck and driven out of town and sold to another middleman who in turn sells them to another. Finally, the very same fish pass between enough hands to make their way back into town and inside the resort’s front gates. The snappers are then seared and served to guests in the hotel dining room under the label “fresh catch” for $18 a plate. With its economic future on the line, a group of small-scale snapper fishers from the district of Bejuco is standing up to long chains of custody and destructive fisheries. They have joined with researchers and non-profit members and scientifically proven the sustainability of their fishing habits. Armed with these results, they are applying for an international sustainability certification, lobbying the federal government to co-management systems and MPAs that would protect their interests from illegal fisheries, and redesigning the way fresh snappers are locally purchased and consumed. Because of its potential, Bejuco’s small-scale artisanal fishing community is too big to be ignored.

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Andy Bystrom Asociación Red Costarricense para el Ambiente y la Educación (ARCAE)

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Asociación Red Costarricense para el Ambiente y la Educación (ARCAE)