In August 2015, the government of Costa Rica received a letter from a tiny fishing community on the northern Caribbean coast. Nestled between Tortuguero National Park and the Nicaragua border, the community of Barra del Colorado — some 2,000 people — have been quietly making a living out of shrimp fishing for generations.
The letter took issue with a 2013 constitutional vote to a ban trawling — a fishing method that can damage marine environments by pulling along undesired fish species and destroying habitats at the ocean bottom.
The vote targeted industrial and semi-industrial trawling operations. But it made no exception for fishers operating at a smaller scale, to catch fish for food or to sell locally for a basic income. For Barra del Colorado and similar communities, it meant losing the legal right to their only livelihood, and a way of life. The letter marked the beginning of a fight for the licence to fish, which continues today. One of the community’s allies is CoopeSoliDar R.L, a local development NGO that facilitated a consensus-building policy process — the National Dialogue for the sustainable use of shrimp — involving government institutions, NGOs, and all productive fishing sectors.