Fish Fabulous Costa Rica archive story

Complex, confusing fishing law can blindside expats and tourists

Back to
Page One

 Complex, confusing fishing law
 can blindside expats and tourists

By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
for Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a favorite location for fishing, but the legalities to do so are confusing. Fortunately, fishing fans and tourists may not have to confront them.

Most fishing in the country requires a special identification card known as a carné, regardless of citizenship.

Even Tom Sawyer and his stick with a fishing line would require an identification card in this country with
one major exception if he were to follow the law.

According to the revised law, Ley de Pesca 8436, and current practice:

• Those who fish for food do not need authorization under the pesca domestica chapter. But to stay out of trouble they should inform someone in an office of the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura, an official said.

• There is a difference between a license and a carné. Licenses are the documents that boat owners need to have. Sports fishermen and tourist fishermen need an identity card or carné.

• Many tourists who purchase a sport fishing package have a carné even though they may not know it. Sports fishing operators frequently purchase the identity cards in blank and in bulk. The documents are good for a year.

• Individuals who seek a carné to authorize them to fish in fresh or salt water have to go to a regional office of the national fishing institute. There are only five offices in the country. They are in Puntarenas, Guanacaste, Limón, Quepos and Golfito. The institute promises to have the system online soon, said Edwin Salazar, director of the institute's Departamento de Proteccion y Registro.

• Individual boat owners who use the vessel to fish have to have what is known as a sports fishing
from the shoree
 Fish Fabulous Costa Rica file photo
 If they are not going to eat the fish, they need a
 special identification.

license. The license process requires a form to be filled out, along with providing a cédula number or passport number, and a deposit into the Banco Nacional account for the institute. The cost ranges from $360 to $1,600 for a one-year license. The price depends on the size of the boat. If a three-month license is purchased for $330, boat size doesn't matter.

• Sports fishing operators who sell their services have to have a tourism license for the vessel. This is the same process as the sports fishing license. The license process, regardless of legal status in the country, is for any person who owns and has planned to fish in the Costa Rican waters. The permission is for the boat to sail with either one fisherman or various fishermen.

• The rules for commercial vessels are complex as are rules for those who would catch and sell fish or shellfish. There are different licenses for those commercial fishermen. Salazar said most people who apply and have commercial licenses are Costa Rican. It is rare for foreigners to have commercial licenses because they are usually in the country for a short amount of time, said the director.

A curiosity in the law is that a person fishing for food does not need authorization. But someone catching and releasing fish does. The tourist and sports fishing carné is supposed to be only for catch and release, since it is for recreational pursuits with no commercial intent. Salazar said it is even illegal to take a fish out of water for a trophy picture unless it has died. The only way to legally take a fish to shore after a sports fishing trip is if the fish died in the release process or the person caught a dead fish. Otherwise keeping the fish is considered against the law, said Salazar.

Many fishermen either do not know the rules or ignore them. One of the complexities or loopholes to the law is that fishing for domestic purpose requires no need for authorization. But there is a
fishing at sunset
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
If they are not going to eat the fish, they need a special identification.

catch. If the person is caught in the water fishing without a carné officers of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas have the jurisdiction to take action because there is no proof that the fisherman is solely fishing for a meal. For all the coast guard officers know is that the fisherman is fishing without any authorization. That is why it is important for a notice to the institute about fishing for food, said Salazar. That is the only proof.

A carné or identification card is sold by the length of a month and year. For one month a carné costs $15, meanwhile a yearly one costs $30. There is a special identification card sold for 4,000 colons a month but that is only for those who want to fish from the shore. This carné can't be used if the fisherman is going into any kind of boat where fishing will take place.

Those wanting to just hang out on a fishing boat while others fish also need a carné. Salazar said that the regulators of the institute go by the saying Nadie puede resistir a pescar cuando ya esta en el barco, “No one can resist fishing once on the boat.” Regardless of the situation as to why there are people on a fishing boat, if there is one person with an intent to fish then everyone else on the boat must have the proper authorization to set sail into the water, he said.

Clerks at downtown sporting goods stores said that few people actually get the carné to fish. A worker at the institute's office in San José said carnes are almost never issued there. The Central Valley has the greatest concentration of population in the country.

Last year the institute reported it raised more than 81.5 million colons, approximately $158,963. That is the combined amount of money from the sale of identification cards from the five main offices in the country.

The Quepos office sold 42 million colons worth, approximately $81,919. Puntarenas sold 22 million colons, approximately $42,910. The Guanacaste office sold 9 million colons, approximately $17,554, and Golfito sold 8 million colons, approximately $15,603.

The Limón office sold half a million colons worth of identification cards for fishing. That is approximately $975.

Sports fishing operators know the law and protect their tourist customers by providing carnes. Many individuals fish in Costa Rica without the slightest regard for obtaining legal authorization.

Although the law appears to be unworkable in some aspects, the coast guard and the institute set up an offshore checkpoint Saturday in the Pacific west of the Los Sueños Marina where they turned back 10 boats that did not have the proper paperwork.
Originally published in A.M. Costa Rica March 1, 2012

The contents of this Web site are copyrighted by Consultantes Río Colorado 2012 and may not be reproduced anywhere without permission. Abstracts and fair use are permitted.  Check HERE for more details