Net­ting Op­er­a­tion Threat­ens Sport Fish­ing in Cen­tral Amer­ica

Saltwater Sportsman - - Casts + Blasts -

China’s grow­ing fleet of gov­ern­mentsub­si­dized Dis­tant Wa­ter Fish­ing (DWF) ves­sels have in­creas­ingly been en­croach­ing on Caribbean and Latin Amer­i­can ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters to fish il­le­gally in re­cent years, but a new agree­ment with the Pana­ma­nian gov­ern­ment now al­lows Chi­nese com­mer­cial fish­ing boats to op­er­ate le­gally off the Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tion’s coast, a move that could sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact game fish­ing not only in Panama, but also in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to find­ings by The Bill­fish Foun­da­tion (TBF), 13 purs­e­seine ves­sels are be­ing sent from Peru to Panama to fish in Panama’s wa­ters as part of a new fish­ery part­ner­ship be­tween Panama and China es­tab­lished through re­cent trade agree­ments on De­cem­ber 3, 2018. The agree­ment al­lows Chi­nese purs­e­seine ves­sels to catch tons of skip­jack tuna, which will then be trans­ferred to Chi­nese com­mer­cial fac­tory trawlers in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters.

De­bate on whether purse-seine ves­sels can fish in Pana­ma­nian wa­ters has been on­go­ing since March 2011, when Kwai Ben Franklin, Panama’s for­mer Di­rec­tor of ARAP (Aquatic Re­sources Au­thor­ity of Panama) re­search and de­vel­op­ment, ar­gued that un­der an ear­lier de­cree, com­mer­cial purse sein­ing was not ac­tu­ally pro­hib­ited. Mean­while, oth­ers main­tain that Panama banned the use of said gear in its lit­toral wa­ters in 2004, with ad­di­tional pro­hi­bi­tions later added in 2010.

While the heated de­bate con­tin­ues, recre­ational fish­ing in Panama and through­out Cen­tral Amer­ica is likely to suf­fer the neg­a­tive im­pacts of the ex­ces­sive ex­trac­tion of skip­jack and other tu­nas (not to men­tion the by­catch of sail­fish, blue, black and striped mar­lin, mahimahi, and other game species), piv­otal parts of the food chain on which the re­gion’s world-fa­mous sport-fish­ing eco-tourism hinges.

RISKY BUSI­NESS: A tuna-net­ting deal threat­ens Panama’s big-game an­gling.

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