Earlier this month, I joined my SFP colleagues at our Americas Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum, which included a lot of first-time experiences, both for SFP and for me.

In previous years, the forum (or “AFF,” as the cool kids call it) has been held in the US. There were a few reasons for this — many of our largest and most influential partners in the Americas are based in the US, and having it in the States made it naturally more convenient for our Americas Buyer Engagement team members, most of whom are based in the US.

So while past forums took place in locations including Miami (FL), Las Vegas (NV), Orlando (FL), and Atlanta (GA), this year SFP, acknowledging that much of our Americas work takes place outside the US, decided to hold it in San Jose, Costa Rica. This wasn’t a first just for SFP—I’d never traveled farther south than the US border, so I got a chance to see a region I had only read about, not to mention put my rudimentary Spanish to work!

The forum took place on April 4 at the Intercontinental Real hotel, which turned out to be a perfect venue for the one-day event. We filled the spacious conference room nicely, too. Many of our partners—including Walmart, Fortune Fish and Gourmet, and Nestle Purina—sent representatives to take part. We also had a large number of local non-partner industry stakeholders join us, giving us a local perspective on sustainability issues that was most welcome. Some of our fellow NGOs joined us as well, including Fair Trade USA, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Marine Stewardship Council. In all, we had 60 attendees from a total of 14 different countries—we wound up with exactly the mix of stakeholders we were hoping for. Presenters discussed challenges ranging from working with small-scale artisanal fisheries to how to manage international fisheries involving species that refuse to stay within one country’s waters.

The more adventurous portion of the trip came the next day. In another first, SFP decided to offer a small group of the forum’s partners and attendees the opportunity to take a two-day “field trip.” I took part in order to represent the organization and take some industry-related photos for use in future publications and on our website, but this was more than just work for me. The hotel’s amenities were so generous that it encouraged most of us to stay close by during the meetings, and I was eager to get out and see the landscape.

We took a guided tour along the winding roads leading through the country’s rolling hills, often offering glimpses of deep canyons and sandy beaches that I’d only seen before in magazines. Eventually we wound up at Martec Aquaculture, which maintains a fish farm and processing facility in Quepos, a small town about in the middle of Costa Rica’s west coast. We got to tour the facility itself, where we watched workers fileting and processing yellowfin tuna, red grouper, and snapper.

Snapper is one of the Martec’s principal products, raised in a series of offshore pens. I’ve seen aquaculture operations in photographs but, until then, in real life only at a distance. We got to take a boat out and see them up close and, as a bonus, we all had the chance to actually jump into a pen and see

the fish firsthand! The snapper, numbering in the tens of thousands, were naturally a bit skittish at our invasion and swam to the bottom of the pen when we arrived, but with a little effort in the warm, buoyant water, we could get low enough to see them. The mass of living things looked like a dark print carpet that rippled and shifted beneath me. Definitely an experience I won’t forget!

The second day, we had just enough time to do a quick visit to Manuel Antonio National Park before heading back to San Jose. I’d been to national parks in the States, but in Central America there was a whole new variety of birds, snakes, and lizards to see. We also got a visit from an extended family of curious, white-faced capuchin monkeys who showed off for our cameras and eyed our bags and pockets, looking for food and other handouts. The tropical landscapes there also featured several beaches with warm, bright blue water. The vistas looked like postcards.

Overall, I thought the trip was a huge success, from both a professional and a personal perspective. It’s always good to see our partners’ representatives again, and it was great to have so many new faces there, too. The visit to Martec was what I expected—fun and informative, with a memorable hands-on experience, and the other attendees seemed to get a lot out of it too. I was extremely grateful to Martec for hosting us, and I hope our SFP organizers consider similar “field trips” in the future. They are bound to be a popular addition to what is already a useful and productive series of forums.