Sustainable Fishing: Balancing Livelihoods and Conservation

Sustainable Fishing: Balancing Livelihoods and Conservation

Sustainable Fishing:

Balancing Livelihoods and Marine Conservation in Costa Rica 

What is Sustainable Fishing?

Sustainable fishing is the practice of harvesting fish in a manner that maintains the long-term vitality of fish populations and marine ecosystems. This holistic approach safeguards against overexploitation, ensuring the marine environment is not damaged, and that the livelihoods of those reliant on the ocean such as fishermen and coastal communities are supported for generations to come. 

Decades of unregulated overfishing have detrimentally impacted marine biodiversity and ecosystems, necessitating a shift towards more mindful fishing practices. 

To address these impacts, scientists assess the health of fish stocks, delving into factors such as population size, spawning patterns, predation, and survival rates to maturity. Through collecting this information, fisheries can implement harvest control rules, which require catches to be reduced if the species’ population declines. By integrating scientific insights and adopting adaptive management strategies, sustainable fisheries can foster a harmonious coexistence between human activities and the marine environment, ensuring its vitality for future generations.

Indigenous cultures worldwide have practised sustainable fishing for thousands of years, utilizing techniques such as spearfishing, hook-and-line methods, and cast nets. These methods minimize bycatch, which is the accidental catch of a different species. They also set aside vulnerable areas, such as coral reefs, and have seasonal restrictions on certain species to allow replenishment of fish stocks. By observing these Indigenous practices, fisheries can learn and adapt their methods to mitigate their environmental impact.

“We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.”

Sylvia Earle

Why is it so Important?

Sustainable fishing is imperative in protecting ocean biodiversity and maintaining a healthy and resilient ocean. With fishers extracting over 77 billion kilograms (170 billion pounds) of sea life from the oceans annually, there are escalating concerns that this exploitation may result in a global collapse of fisheries. Climate change is already having detrimental impacts on our oceans and the health of fish stocks, making the need for sustainable fishing more important than ever.

Unsustainable practices such as overfishing not only deplete targeted fish populations, but also lead to the unintended capture of non-targeted species such as turtles, birds, and other marine life. As much as 40% of fisheries’ captures worldwide are bycatch, and an estimated 650,000 whales, dolphins, and seals are killed annually by fishing nets. Unselective and destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling and drift net fishing are also destroying delicate marine habitats, such as coral reefs, seagrass and seabed communities. 

With all of these fishing practices, over 640,000 tons of plastic waste is generated and left to pollute the ocean. This includes nets, lines and traps that are continuously trapping and killing marine life.

Beyond environmental concerns, sustainable fishing plays a pivotal role in upholding global food security, particularly in regions where seafood serves as a vital source of protein and essential nutrients. By conserving fish populations, sustainable fishing mitigates the need for increased reliance on land-based proteins, thus averting further deforestation and environmental degradation.

Furthermore, sustainable fishing practices provide critical support and protection for countless communities and organizations that depend on fishing and seafood-related activities for their livelihoods. By embracing sustainable fishing methods, we can ensure the continued viability of these industries while safeguarding the health and integrity of our oceans for generations to come.

113 million people globally are employed by fisheries

97% of employment from fisheries are in developing countries

How Do We Achieve Sustainable Fishing?

Government Cooperation

Comprehensive government cooperation, from local communities to nations across the world, is crucial in ensuring responsible fishing practices. There are numerous organizations, such as the National Platform for Sustainable Fisheries of Large Pelagics here in Costa Rica, which provide a platform for various stakeholders to discuss challenges they may face related to sustainable fishing. Establishing protected marine reserves can assist in conserving delicate marine ecosystems such as reefs and mangroves, allowing fish populations to regenerate and recover.

Fishery Management

Effective fishery management is essential in achieving sustainable fishing practices. Steps can be taken such as monitoring and retrieving lost gear as well as using biodegradable panels or locks on gear such as crab pots, preventing fishing gear from being discarded or lost in the ocean and allowing species to escape. 


As consumers, we can choose seafood that has been harvested and produced by well-managed, sustainable fisheries. To do this, we must educate ourselves on the origin and capture techniques used by fisheries. Resources such as Seafood Watch can also assist us in making informed decisions. In Costa Rica, look out for the ‘Pura Vida’ label on seafood products as an assurance of sustainability.

From research conducted by MOTT Community College, 60% of tourists in Quepos, Costa Rica do not know what sustainable seafood is!

Making mindful species about the types of fish we consume is also key. Below are some species to avoid, as well as alternative options. This helps reduce pressure on fragile species and contributes to the overall sustainability of fisheries.

Best Choice

Mahi-Mahi/Dorado: Reproduces quickly

Snapper: Reproduces quickly and grows fast


Alternative Options

Yellowfin Tuna: Large in size

Common & Black Snook: Adaptable

Wahoo: High reproductive rate and fast growth rate


Octopus: Ethically questionable due to their intelligence

Lobster: Overfished due to consumer demand

Tilapia: Questionable farming methods using chemicals

Swordfish: High levels of mercury

Marlin: Often caught by bycatch

Shark: Unsustainably fished


We recently had the pleasure of welcoming 9 students from Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, who came to help us in our progress towards protecting our oceans, as they play an important role in our way of life. Months before joining us here in Quepos, they had begun important research into the fishing industry and in particular, the sustainability of certain fish in Costa Rica. Once here, over a week, the students learnt about Marine Conservation, its importance, sustainable fishing practices, and how we have exploited it over decades. They then went and conducted primary research speaking to restaurants, tourists and fishermen in the local area to find out more about the fishing industry and its sustainability.

As a final message from us at Marine Conservation Costa Rica, we’d like to thank Aizya S, Alexis F, Angelique T, Dante W, Grant M, Joshua M, Mahmuda H, Marielle J, Shelby N and Professor Devone for joining us to educate all of us on how we can make more informed decisions about what we eat!

By Aizya S, Alexis F, Angelique T, Dante W, Grant M, Joshua M, Mahmuda H, Marielle J, Shelby N, Professor Devone from MOTT Community College and Mayella Bignell 

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