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The Billfish Foundation

in C e n t r a l A m e r i c a

March 2013

Toll Free: 1-888-432-6666

Photo by Jessica Haydahl

TBF is the world’s leader in billfish conservation and the voice for anglers.

First Stage of Sportfishing Economic

Study Completed in Panama Your Donations at Work INCOME Contributions 80%

Toll Free: 1-888-432-6666

Photo by Jessica Haydahl

Panama is known the world over as a world class destination for anglers seeking to target a vast array of gamefish including marlin, sailfish and tuna. But it is not the promise of fighting the fish of a life time that makes sportfishing important to the region; it is the economic impacts generated from foreign anglers that help to improve both the lives of Panamanians and their unique marine resources. In previous years, TBF has commissioned studies to analyze the impacts of anglers in Costa Rica and Los Cabos, Mexico, which clearly established the link between healthy oceans and prosperous economies. TBF in conjunction with Southwick & Associates and OCEARCH have assessed the economic impacts of Panama’s sportfishing industry and found that not only is sportfishing a substantial industry, but there is potential for growth. Drawn to Panama by its tropical location, ecotourism is rapidly increasing in Panama and sportfishing is a growing part of that industry. In fact, in 2011 more than 86,000 visitors fished during their stay in Panama, with 22,000 visitors coming for the sole purpose of fishing. Utilizing economic models it is estimated that the impact of these anglers equates to a direct expenditure of US $97 million while in 2


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Other 3%

the country paid for lodging, boats, fuel, tackle and other fishing related expenses. The flow-on impacts of this US $97 million generates US $170.4 million in retail and business-to-business sales, US $3.1 million in tax revenues, an increase in Panama’s GDP by US $48.4 million, and 9,503 jobs. In fact, for every 10 anglers that visit Panama, a Panamanian job is created and with each individual angler visiting the country the Panamanian GDP increases by US $562. Surveys conducted for this study show that there is great potential for capturing even more benefits from tourists, for 30 percent of respondents expressed interest in fishing if they return to the country. Fortunately, responses from these surveys also reveal insights into anglers’ motivations for choosing a fishing destination that may help support the growth of Panama’s sportfishing industry. Survey respondents indicated their primary reason for choosing a fishing destination is the perceived quality of local fishing opportunities and that they would be less likely to return to a destination if commercial harvest of gamefish increased. Conversely, more than half of the respondents indicated they would be more likely (Continued on page 6)

Memberships 14%

Events 3%

EXPENSES Programs 86%

Administration 11%

Fundraising 3%


Education 6%

Membership 10%

Advocacy 6% Tag & Release 8%

Submersible Deep See Research Vessel. Photos by Pronature Staff.


with a variety of scientists - geographers, oceanographers, microbiologists, marine biologists and marine geologists – in characterizing the deep water resources and conditions in the Golfo. In addition, Nitrox SCUBA dives were conducted during the expedition where best suited.

observed depths, but no more colonies were found. Identification of invertebrates is still in progress, but thus far 14 crab species of 8 families have been identified. Other interesting sea life observed were bottlenose dolphins, a Mobula manta ray school and sea turtles.

TBF’s research with our partners in Costa Rica, Pronature and the University of Costa Rica, focuses on work in the Golfo of Dulce, which is in the very southern part of the country, near the border with Panama. The area has been declared a Marine Area for Responsible Fishing, the second to gain the designation. In 2011, a project began with the goal of monitoring the area’s marine resources and their response to the removal of shrimp trawls and gillnets. A working hypothesis is that increasing abundance of fish species in the Golfo will translate, through migration, into increased prey for billfish offshore.

The Deep See is a high-technology, three passenger submersible equipped with powerful lights, high-definition video cameras, USBL navigation system, Doppler navigation, forward-looking sonar and an acrylic sphere for viewing. Eight dives were dedicated to videotape and observation and the ninth one was conducted to test various sample collection devices.

In addition to the marine life observed, scientists searched to see what sort of marine debris had ended up in the Golfo. Years past, old transformers had reportedly been dumped by banana corporations working in the area. Scientists have found that transformers create high measures of endocrine disruptors (chemicals that interfere with hormonal systems of animals), hence the importance of finding them. Such human activities can have direct impacts on marine ecosystems which eventually can impact fish and other natural systems. It turned out that the submersible was not able to go into the waters where it is believed that the transformers were allegedly dumped, so they remain on the agenda to locate. Only one discarded fishing line was observed; in fact, very little debris was found. Naturally occurring dynamics can also cause changes in marine ecosystems. The El Nino Southern Oscillation can cause changes in the Golfo’s inter-annual variations of circulation, water chemistry, bacterial processes, plankton productivity and fish production, whether target species for humans or prey species for large pelagic billfish.


Previous research into the depths of the Golfo had been limited to indirect means, but Dr. Helena Molina, the lead scientist on the project, and professor at the University of Costa Rica, wanted to solve the gap in vertical data distribution by direct observation. The platform for this direct obervation research technique came from Undersea Hunter Group (UHG), an established research collaborator with the university in research in the Cocos Island, offshore of Costa Rica. The Golfo project provided the crews of the UHG ship, the Undersea Hunter, and submersible, Deep See, the opportunities to work

Results from nine dives included geological data indicating that the bathymetric profile (water depth) of the Golfo could be the result of faults or volcanic intrusions. Fish identifications and distribution included 43 fish species in 27 families observed in the six locations with different habitat types – soft bottoms, coral communities, basalt formations and pelagic environments. Species diversity increased in the basalt formations and black coral communities. Fish in the shallow water environments were very active, but below 100 meters only small croakers were observed. The submersible observations also located some sparsely distributed, recently described, white octocorals, but at a depth greater than earlier reported. Some rare black coral assemblages were located at earlier

(Continued on page 6)



changes in marine ecosystems. The El Nino Southern Oscillation can cause changes in the Golfo’s interannual variations of circulation, water chemistry, bacterial processes, plankton productivity and fish production, whether target species for humans or prey species for large pelagic billfish.


The Golfo of Dulce research, including that with Undersea Hunter, is exciting and into its second year is revealing surprises, confirming concerns and raising additional research questions for the remaining years in the project. Stay tuned to see what the next few years reveal.

Last fall in Santa Marta, Colombia, eleven nations participated in a workshop hosted by TBF, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission. The workshop was charged with developing a manual for assessing economic impacts of recreational fisheries in the Wider Caribbean Region. The lecture and instructions were led by two well respected economists, Rob Southwick and Brad Gentner.

FISH ECOLOGY & STOCK ASSESSMENT WORKSHOP FOR UNIVERSITY STUDENTS Dr. Robert Ahrens of the University of Florida and TBF’s Dr. Russell Nelson conducted an intensive one week course in fisheries ecology and stock assessment for 11 select undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Costa Rica. During the week, students were exposed to 10-hour days and content that roughly equaled a semester’s worth of graduate level fisheries science. While the course was rigorous, the eager students worked very hard and by the end of the class were inspired to consider reaching for higher educational, and eventually higher professional goals. The course

Dr. Robert Ahrens in Costa Rica lecturing to students. Photo by Ingo Wehrtmann.



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University students attending the fish ecology workshop. Photos courtesy of Ingo Wehrtmann. was a great success and marked the beginning of TBF’s efforts to cultivate fisheries science expertise within the academic and government sectors of Central America. “Science-based facts cannot alone persuade fisheries officials to institute strong conservation measures for the fish important to the sportfishing industry and the local benefitting economy,” noted Nelson, “but without the science these goals are hopeless.” While the returns from this educational investment will not be immediate, the long-term return to the Central American nations, the region, the fish and fishing opportunities will be very meaningful.

The manual produced has a two-fold purpose: one, to raise awareness of the economic importance of recreational fisheries to decision makers, general public and business leaders, and two, to assist fishery managers in contributing better to fisheries policy affecting management, conservation and economic policies for their nation. The completed manual was translated into Spanish and now can be downloaded from TBF’s website ( Several participating nations agreed to apply the techniques developed for the manual to complete test case analyses in their home countries.

Participants representing 11 nations attended the socio-economic workshop in Colombia.

Sportfishing marina in Costa Rica. Photo by Fischer Productions.


zone in which purse seines and other destructive commercial gears would be prohibited.

tinues to grow in Costa Rica along with that of our conservation partner Pronature. INCOPESCA, the Costa Rican fisheries agency, has long been seen as an entity with little respect for sportfishing and a close operating relationship with that nation’s commercial fishing sector. That paradigm seems to be changing.


The Commission is also acting to persuade the government to allow foreign sportfishing vessels to remain in the country for longer periods of time – a move that will increase the revenues and jobs created by their presence. Also on the agenda for 2013 is a revamp of the outdated and confusing sportfishing regulations and development of a means to allow the limited take of billfish to be entered as world records. Presently, all billfish must be released alive.

The TBF-sponsored DNA

TBF’s presence and stature con-

In 2012, INCOPESCA responded to pressure from TBF and Costa Rican anglers, marinas and charter fleets by creating the nation’s first Dr. Herbert Nanne, PHD Sports Fishing Commission. Members are from the country’s sportfishing industry and are charged with advising the agency on recreational fishing issues. TBF’s Central American Conservation Director Herbert Nanne was primarily responsible for getting the government to create this Commission after TBF’s socio-economic study showed that sportfishing was bringing over $600 million annually into Costa Rica’s economy. In its first year, this Commission arranged for the creation of temporary buffer zones to keep longlines out of the areas when and where billfish tournaments were held. The purpose is to ease conflicts between the two segments and hopefully see an increase in abundance of fish remaining in the water during tournaments. A long-term goal for this Commission is to secure a 50 mile coastal buffer

In 2012 the first ever sportfishing industry’s representative to be appointed by the president to the Board of INCOPESCA was given to Jeanette Perez, a longJeanette Perez time owner of JP Sportfishing Tours in Quepos. With the addition of Jeanette to INCOPESCA, the voice of recreational fishing is getting louder and better understood throughout Costa Rica.

Photo by Fischer Productions.

program in association with Pronature continues to provide for testing of frozen fish awaiting export through the international airport in San Jose. The program has finished its second year and continues to be successful in revealing thousands of pounds of sailfish that were about to be shipped despite the Costa Rican ban on export. Run by the Ministry of Agriculture, the program is showing that it can be a strong deterrent to this practice.

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TBF Coalition Achieves a First for Conservation For the past four years concerns about what appears to be a substantial decline in dorado (mahi-mahi or dolphin fish) along the Pacific Coast of Central America, have been raised by TBF’s Central American Conservation Director Herbert Nanne, its chief scientist, Dr. Russell Nelson, and Monica Gutierrez, President of the Costa Rican conservation group PRONATURE. Artisanal fishermen have seen their catches of valuable dorado drop precipitously. Unable to Herbert Nanne catch sufficient dorado, these coastal commercial fishermen have increased their take of illegal sailfish, which sells for a small fraction of the price they receive for dorado. Monica Gutierrez This shift has created conflicts with the sportfishing sector, and led to declines in sailfish and, ultimately, an economic tragedy for the region.

It seems clear that the well documented bycatch mortality of dorado and other species taken and discarded by purse seines fishing with FADs (fish aggregate devices) and longlines has generated what is at least a localized depletion of this species along the Costa Rican coast. The Costa Rican Vice-Minister of Agriculture, Xinia Chavez, listened to the concerns of the TBF coalition and understood the reality of this problem. She directed the national fisheries agency, INCOPESCA, to institute a Central American coalition to address the problem. INCOPESCA’s Luis Dobles, Bernal Chavaria, and Miguel Carvajal brought the issue before OSPESCA, the Central America regional fisheries management Dr. Russell Nelson authority. They scored a major success when all the Central American nations agreed to force the issue of working on the first scientific stock assessment of this species before this year’s annual meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). Subsequentially, at this meeting in San Diego, Nelson, Nanne and Gutierrez faced an uphill battle to gain acceptance of this request from the 21 member nations of the IATTC, where the objection of a single member would be sufficient to kill the request. Of particular concern was that the powerful European Union which fishes heavily on FADs or Japan, China, Korea or Taiwan that fish longlines and have historically been resistant to efforts to conserve nontarget species, would stop the effort. OSPESCA’s head, Mario Gonzalez, provided strong support in keeping the coalition together and gaining the support of other nations for the assessment. On June 28 a little bit of history was made. The IATTC agreed unanimously that the issue was important and directed their staff to place an assessment of dorado on their work plan.  This might seem like a small move, but taking action to use



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hard science to determine the impacts of high seas tuna fisheries on mahi-mahi is a first in the international fisheries management world, and could ultimately pay off big for sailfish and marlin conservation marking a real move into consideration of tuna fishing and gear impacts on the whole pelagic ecosystem. This was an excellent outcome won by hard work and patience dealing with an international fisheries management that is slow to respond to any new issues and inherently reluctant to look into problems arising from particular fishing gear. We are appreciative of the work done by Herbert Nanne, Costa Rican officials, Monica Gutierrez and the members of OSPESCA to bring this acute problem out into the clear light of objective science. This great work is a prime example of how persistence, hard work and the proper framing of an issue can succeed.

(Contued from page 2) to return to a destination if commercial harvest of gamefish was restricted and there were tighter regulations placed on gamefish. Considering that anglers are much more likely to return to Panama (5.9 visits compared to 3.76 for the average visitor), there is great potential for Panama to extract even greater benefits from visiting anglers through a combination of marketing directed toward anglers and utilizing effective, responsible fishery management practices that recognize the importance of visiting anglers. TBF along with Southwick and Associates and OCEARCH are working with Panama’s tourism officials to identify strategies for further developing the sportfishing industry in Panama.

(Contued from page 3) The Golfo of Dulce research, including that with Undersea Hunter, is exciting and into its second year is revealing surprises, confirming concerns and raising additional research questions for the remaining years in the project. Stay tuned to see what the next few years reveal.

JOIN OR RENEW YOUR SUPPORT Membership Levels and Benefits

Visit to learn more about Individual, Club or Corporate Memberships Sailfish $25 U.S./$50* International • Unlimited free release certificates • Official membership card & decal • Full-color issues of Billfish • FREE TBF membership T-shirt

Striped Marlin - $75 All of the above, plus: • License plate featuring TBF Logo

Join or renew at the Chairman’s Club level and join a core group of leading members.

Chairman’s Club - $1,000 All of the above, plus:

• Beautiful signed and numbered print by a favorite marine artist with hand-painted remarque • Insider reports from the Chairman • Special invitations to exclusive TBF events • Chairman’s Club Flag for your boat or home • Chairman’s Club hat

Legacy - $10,000 and above

• Lifetime Chairman’s Club Level Membership

White Marlin - $125 All of the above, plus: • TBF membership visor

corporate & club memberships

Swordfish - $250

Fishing Clubs are a prime source to spread TBF’s conservation message! Make YOUR Fishing Club a TBF Member at one of these levels:

All of the above, plus: • Exclusive signed and numbered print by a favorite marine artist

 $250  $500  $1000 TBF Corporate memberships are a great way to support billfish conservation and promote your business. Corporate memberships are available at these levels:  $1000   $1500   $2500  $5000

Blue Marlin - $500 All of the above, plus: • Set of 5 billfish tags • Three complimentary gift memberships • Complimentary tickets to Fort Lauderdale & Miami International Boat Shows

To learn more about details and benefits for TBF’s Club or Corporate memberships, contact Deborah at: or 954-938-0150 ext 106.

Membership Application  I want to support billfish conservation as a TBF member. I have enclosed my membership payment in the following amount: $25 $50* $75 $125 $250 $500 $1,000  $2,500  $5,000  $10,000 Other $______ * Minimum donation for International Sailfish level

Name _ _____________________________________ Address_ _________________________________________________________ City________________________________________ State_________________________ Zip_ __________ Country_______________ Phone______________________________________ Fax__________________________ Email_ ______________________________ Payment Method:  Visa  MasterCard  American Express  Discover  Check Account #:_________________________________________________ Exp. Date __________________________________________ Name on Account___________________________________________ Signature___________________________________________

Members-Only T-Shirt:  S



 XL

Type of Contribution:

 New  Renewal  Gift Please provide the name and address of gift giver and recipient separately if you are giving a gift membership. Membership donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

 2XL

 3XL Please fill out and return with your contribution to: The Billfish Foundation PO Box 628259 • Orlando, FL 32862-9941 800-438-8247 ext. 106 •



PCCA COSTA RICA • February 28 - March 3, 2013 ** PRESIDENTIAL PAPAGAYO CUP • May 16 - 19, 2013 * ARUBA CARIBBEAN CUP • October 17 - 20, 2013 PCCA GUATEMALA • November 22 - 24, 2013 ** All Presidential Challenge tournaments benefit billfish conservation through the IGFA, The Billfish Foundation & the Adopt-A-Billfish Satellite Tagging Program. Enjoy superb light-tackle billfishing in addition to outstanding camaraderie in some of the world’s finest destinations. * Participating tournament in the 2013 Billfish Tournament Series of Central America. * Participating tournament in the Offshore World Championship.

For more information contact Joan Vernon at: THE PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGE CHARITABLE FOUNDATION, INC. 205 E. Enid Drive, Key Biscayne, FL 33149 Tel: 305-361-9258 / E-mail:

Billfish Foundation in Central America  

March, 2013 Report

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