El Niño and Costa Rica Sport Fishing

Over the past couple months many people have asked us what effects the potential El Niño will have on the peak sport fishing months in Costa Rica this year. Others have taken it to another extreme and have decided they are flat out not coming down to fish in 2010 and are going to come in 2011. So the question remains – what, if any, effect will an El Niño year have on the Costa Rica sport fishing industry? The answer varies a bit, but in general no one here is too worried about it.

First of all, let us explain exactly what El Niño is. El Niño, also known as El Niño-Southern Oscillation, refers to the periodic changing of atmospheric and ocean conditions in the tropical Pacific region of the world. It is identified mainly by monitoring the changes in the atmosphere between Australia and South America as well as the changes in surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean mainly in the tropical central and eastern regions. El Niño refers to the warm temperature phase and La Niña refers to the cold water phase. There is no exact science to it, but typically they occur every 3-8 years and usually start in December and can run all the way through April. While the effects of El Niño are certainly felt much more directly in South American countries like Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, Central and North America can also be affected by it depending on the severity and strength of El Niño. The Southern Hemisphere experiences it’s summer, or dry season months, from December through March and Costa Rica shares that same pattern. During an El Niño year the weather can be warmer than usual and much wetter causing major flooding in central South America near Peru and Ecuador.

So how will all of this affect Costa Rica? No one knows for sure, but in general the effects of an El Niño are not felt too strongly this far north. Typically conditions are hotter and drier, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Last year Costa Rica experienced major flooding on both coasts and we even saw a few of our fishing boats sink during a strong Pacific storm, so when the meteorologists tell us rain is down 75% from last year it isn’t necessarily bad news at all. We are still getting our afternoon rain showers to keep things green and vibrant, however we are avoiding the hours upon hours of monsoon strength rain. Weather aside, one of main
concerns that serious anglers have is the effect El Niño would have on the ocean currents and temperatures. El Niño has been known to reduce the upwelling of cold, nutrient rich water which starts the marine food chain from plankton to our game fish – so it could be potentially harmful if not monitored. Peru’s fishing industry had major problems during the El Niño years of 1972 and 1982, but keep in mind they are at ground zero for feeling the effects of El Niño while Costa Rica is over 22 degrees latitude and 1,600 miles north of Peru.

The simple fact is while you may certainly be able to pick your time and location to increase your chances for catching fish in Costa Rica, there is not and never has been a guarantee on catching fish and El Niño does not affect that. As Nancy Lebo, owner & manager of the famous Spanish Fly, Super Fly, and The Bite at the Los Suenos Resort & Marina said, “We’ve had good fishing years when El Niño was around and not so good years when El Niño wasn’t a factor so it’s very hard to know exactly what will happen. We could have a lousy fishing year and everyone will think it’s because of El Niño, but there could be other reasons also. The situation that really affects the fishing is red tide and you never know when that will happen.”

The dreaded ‘red tide’ is of course a massive algae bloom that ends up eating up all the waters oxygen and therefore either kills or chases all the fish away. The bad thing about red tides is they are unpredictable and no one knows when they will occur or how long they’ll last. Scientists are studying to see if they are caused by the warming of the ocean’s temperature or even human’s affect on the ocean like pollution, but right now no one knows. All we do know is that if there is a red tide there will be no fish around, and that is just a fact of life. So all things considered with El Niño, if it does occur this year it most likely will have a noticeable effect on the weather throughout the tropical Pacific and it could possibly affect the fishing in South America, but it most likely will have no effect on Costa Rica. If you read the words of that sentence more closely, you will see there is a lot of ambiguity and unknowns and that is nothing new the fishing world. After all, we all know that is why they call it fishing and not catching…