Costa Rica is a lush Central American country that has a lot of coastlines on the east and west sides of the country. To the east is the Caribbean Sea and to the west is the Pacific Ocean. The country is blanketed with rainforest, along with rivers containing freshwater fish. The oceans surrounding the country are also home to many species of fish. Both commercial and tourism fishing are important for the Costa Rican economy, and Costa Ricans tend to eat a lot of fish! Here are some of the most popular species of fish in and around the country.
There are three types of tuna that live near Costa Rica:
- Yellowfin tuna
- Bigeye tuna
- Skipjack tuna
Yellowfin tuna may be the most commonly caught tuna. They can grow up to 400 pounds and nearly 8 feet long! They travel in schools of their own species and other fish of similar sizes, including other tuna species. These carnivorous fish eat other fish, crustaceans, and squid. Their bodies are designed for speed, both to help them catch speedy meals like flying fish, and to help them evade predators. Yellowfin is popular with both sport fishers and commercial fisheries. However, current tactics that help to avoid bycatches of dolphins in tuna nets tend to target smaller and younger yellowfins. This could affect future populations.
Bigeye tuna are similar in size to yellowfin, growing up to 8 feet long and weighing around 400 pounds. What makes this species unique is that they can tolerate colder, less oxygenated waters than other fish species. They also have large eyes that help them to see in lower light areas. They eat fish, crustaceans, and squid, as well as octopus. Unfortunately, this species is facing a significant population decline due to commercial fishing and climate change.
Skipjack tuna is the smallest of these three species. They grow up to 3 feet long and weigh around 20 pounds. Though it is very popular species in commercial fishing, the current levels of consumption are actually sustainable according to environmental experts.
2. Rainbow Trout
Rainbow trout are native to the Pacific coast of the Northern part of North America and the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. However, in the 1950s, these fish were introduced to colder mountainous regions of the country to support the interests of foreign sport fishers. This mountainous region is now home to sustainable populations. They were introduced along with the Kamloops rainbow trout, and both have bred together to create a hybrid: the Tico rainbow trout. This trout is colorful, with a reddish stripe on the side and black speckles along the top. They may grow up to 18 inches long, but most catches are 10 inches or less.
3. Rainbow Bass
The nickname for this fish in Costa Rica is “guapote”, which means handsome one. They are colorful fish with markings ranging from green and red on the head to blue on the fins. These fish are typically between five and 10 pounds but can grow as big as 15 pounds. Despite their name, the rainbow bass isn’t actually a bass. They are carnivores in the cichlid family. These fish can get quite aggressive and are also rather intelligent. They look similar to peacock bass and people commonly confuse them for that species.
Tilapia is a popular food fish for their buttery texture and mild, almost sweet taste. It is the 4th most popular fish in the United States. Their history as important commercial fish goes all the way back to Ancient Egypt and Biblical times!
There are a few different species of tilapia:
- Nile tilapia
- Blue tilapia
- Mozambique tilapia
The ones found in Costa Rica include the Nile tilapia and the blue tilapia. Aquaculture, or fish farming, of tilapia is very popular in the country. They were introduced to Costa Rica in the 1970s. Tilapia is often less expensive than other fish on the market because they are cost-effective to farm. They eat plants like algae, which is cheaper than animal-based fish food. These fish are also popular because they grow quickly and have lower mercury levels than other fish due to their diet. While they can help control invasive aquatic plants, they are also one of the top 100 invasive species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Corvina is a small blueish-grey saltwater fish that lives in the ocean waters surrounding Costa Rica on the Pacific side. They grow to around 16 inches long. This species is sometimes called a sea bass, but that name is not correct. The Corvina is a popular food fish, similar in taste to snapper. It is often used for ceviche, and other traditional Central and South American fish dishes.
The roosterfish may get its name from its long and prominent “comb” on top of its head, which lightly resembles a rooster‘s red comb in shape, though not in color. They can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh up to 110 pounds. They are popular to catch for sport, but the flesh is not popular for food. However, locals do eat it. They are aggressive and put up a fight, forcing sport fishers to use their best techniques to snag one.
Roosterfish are predators who eat smaller fish like sardines and mullet fish. Costa Rica and Panama are two of the best countries for catching roosterfish!
The snook is a fish that lives in the ocean waters to the east of Costa Rica. Other names for the snook include the sergeant fish and Robelo. They are on average about 1.5 feet long, but the largest one ever caught was more than 4 feet long.
Snook are particularly vulnerable to climate change as they change their behavior quickly based on their environment. For example, a cold snap in 2010 caused a 41% reduction in the snook population around Florida. Due to their sensitivities, snook is a protected fish in some places. For example, in certain areas of Florida, you must catch and release snook.
However, in Costa Rica, you can catch and keep them, and enjoy their tasty meat. It’s best to remove the skin – it sometimes has a soapy taste.
8. Cubera Snapper
The Cubera snapper, also called the Cuba snapper, is a large, solitary, long-living fish. They can live as long as 55 years and may grow up to 5 feet long. In addition to other fish, they also eat crustaceans. They are a popular food fish, and the IUCN lists this fish as vulnerable. They are easy to find at certain times of year when they gather in groups of up to 10,000 to spawn. When fishers take too many from these gatherings, the next year’s spawn may be smaller. From 1995-2015 the amount of Cubera snapper caught has decreased by at least 60% due to overfishing.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Guido Montaldo/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What oceans are around Costa Rica?
The Caribbean Sea is to the east of Costa Rica and to the west is the Pacific Ocean.
What types of tuna are found in Costa Rica?
The types of tuna found in Costa Rica include yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, and skipjack tuna.
What are some examples of fish species found in Costa Rica?
Rainbow trout, tilapia, and corvina are examples of fish species found in Costa Rica.
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- Backwater Flyfishing, Available here: https://backwaterflyfishing.com/2020/01/26/fly-fishing-huge-trout-in-costa-rica-valle-de-la-trucha/
- Fish West, Available here: https://blog.fishwest.com/tight-lines-in-paradise-the-mystery-of-the-tico-
- Central American Fishing, Available here: https://www.centralamericafishing.com/meet-the-fish/rooster-fish/
- Fishing Booker, Available here: https://fishingbooker.com/fish/bass-rainbow