Sports fishing, particularly around the Las Perlas islands attracts enthusiasts from all over the world to Panama waters and provides a welcome fillip to the country’s tourism industry. But an article published in Saltwater Sportsman suggests that Panama’s growing trade ties with China could affect the local industry.
China’s growing fleet of government subsidized 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 purse-seine 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 purse-seine 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.
I wonder how big that bribe was.